The liberation of letting go

We’re beginning to see an end in sight to the declutter. We stood yesterday in the playroom which has become the sort of holding bay for stuff we’ve sorted out as needing to leave the house before it actually does so. It veers between very empty and very full and has spent the last week or so incredibly cluttered as I have a large amount of clothing waiting to be collected by a friend. She is doing a Nearly New sale of clothes and gifts to raise money for her disabled daughter. She takes a percentage of what you sell and passes the rest on to you – you set prices for your stuff. Very similar to the NCT Nearly New Sales I have bought kids clothes from over the years. I also have the remainder of the books from the Open House Books Sale we did. We discussed how we’d not really thought our house was that cluttered to begin with but it has been fairly epic emptying it ready to head off. Of course our combined ages in this house total 100 years (how very tidy, hadn’t realised that before 🙂 ) so that’s a lot of years worth of living and acquiring stuff.

A few new readers seem to have appeared lured by the promise of Extreme Decluttering Tips so whilst people who have been reading from the beginning may well now be bored with How Nic’s House Got Emptied I’ll do a bit of a round up as we are very close to the end of that phase now so it’s a good time to do it.

I’ve always done at least one big clear out a year, mostly of clothes – my own if I have not worn them since the last clear out a year before and the kids if they are outgrown / worn out. I have used various methods of clearing clothes over the years – passing them on to smaller friends and relatives for the kids clothes, selling on ebay (I got more for my maternity clothes that saw me through both pregnancies than I paid for them when I came to ebay them), passing them on to charity shops and I also went through a phase of making rag rugs so cut up lots of clothing to do that (although technically that didn’t mean they left the house they were in smaller, useful incarnations).

We’ve cleared toys fairly regularly too, mainly to make room for more toys it has to be said but better they leave than form the base layer of plastic in a sort of archaelogical landfill inside our home. They have mostly left by the same method – ebay for resale if worth it, donation to family, friends or charity shop or indeed freecycle. Board books and early picture books have gone the same way, we simply don’t have a big enough house to home all of the stuff a family of four collects and as we had Dragon and Star just two years apart and knew we were done with babies after them we were able to decide each phase was over once Star reached it and get rid of toddler jigsaws, lift the flap books, stacking cup and shape sorters as we went.

But we still had a heck of a lot of stuff to get rid of once we started needing to clear the house. Storage is expensive and whilst my parents have kindly offered to take some of our stuff and we will have room in our loft for a few boxes so the few bits of furniture and things we can’t part with will be kept stuff has really had to justify it’s position not to be shipped out.

That meant going through our house a room at a time and making decisions on everything as to whether we could bring it with us, justify storing it or whether it had to go. Furniture, books, clothes, toys, cds, films, kitchen contents, appliances. Everything.
 

We’ll be extreme living proof of the sorts of statistics you hear on Trinny and Susannah about how we spent 90% of our time wearing just 10% of our clothes (or something) so we’ll be doing Capsule Wardrobe in a serious fashion. Any clothes the kids won’t wear next year won’t fit them by the time we get home. Ady and I have kept a suit for funerals, one for job interviews and a small box full of clothes between us (containing mostly Ady’s collection of vintage Pompey tops and my wedding dress) and the rest has gone to the clothes bank or is awaiting collection for the nearly new sale. The kids clothes are all packed up ready to be passed on to smaller friends.

Cds and films were next to be scrutinised. A small selection of each will be kept but we had more music and more films than we could watch or listen to back to back with two being played at once for the cumulative totals of the rest of our natural lives. Precious music had already made it onto MP3 players so the cds went on ebay, collection only. It’s not like we can’t download any tune we want at some future point. Videos went on freecycle, after nobody wanted them on ebay. They are now part of an entertainment library at a local youth club. DVDs did sell on ebay, the smaller collection will be going into storage.

Books! I work at the local library and recently spent some time working out how many years worth of reading material there was just in our small branch. I worked out the avergae word count per book, the average reading speed and the average number of books per shelf. Did the maths and calculated how many lifetimes worth of reading you could get for free from your local library. We were not that far behind with our own book collection here! A couple of shelves were mostly ex library books or other kids reference / non fiction, gathered in the early days of our Home Ed career back when I cherished this notion Dragon and Star would request ‘Mama, do tell me more of the pyramids in Egypt?’ at which point I would gather a selection of relevant books from our in-house library, we’d read together, create sugar cube pyramids, dress with tea towels on our heads for the day, stick The Bangles Walk Like An Egyptian on and make lapbooks complete with hieroglyphics. The thing is Dragon and Star aren’t that sort of Home Ed kids, I’m not that sort of Home Ed mama, we don’t have enough sugar cubes, we’ve sold The Bangles Greatest Hits and we could just google anyway.

I also have a fair few books of my own, some biographies and autobiographies, a selection of fiction and a few other titles. The kids also had some childrens fiction on their bookcases (we have a ceiling height 7 shelf book case in our hall and the kids both have a 3 shelf bookcase in their rooms – all were full, along with a shelf of cook books in the kitchen). We were ruthless in our going through the shelves keeping only the books we simply couldn’t bear to part with. For me that was a couple of parenting / home ed handbooks (Alfie Kohn, Sandra Dodd, David Edwards), dictionaries and thesaurus, a shelf of a few educational books, some Ladybird books and a shelf of books we will be taking with us – Collins books of nature, wildlife, trees, plants, food for free that sort of thing. Dragon has saved mostly fiction, Star mostly non-fiction from their shelves.

Books are tricky to get rid of really, heavy for posting so not great for ebay or amazon marketplace, bulky to lug back and forth to car boot sales but hard to see going for nothing. So I came up with the idea of an Open House Book Sale day, stuck it up on local home ed email lists and as a facebook event for friends and got in a supply of tea and biscuits, displayed the books on the table and in sorted out into themed crates and opened the doors. We had 6 or 7 visitors and it was a really nice day of chatting to friends about our adventure, seeing the books go off to new homes where they will be used and appreciated and watching the pot for collecting money filling up. I do still have loads of books left and have had some interesting suggestions for ideas on what to do with them including donating some to the local doctors and dentists waiting room (I know we have appreciated kids books in both over the years when waiting a long time for appointments), setting some free in the Bookcrossing scheme, giving some of the adult titles to residential homes, hostels, giving educational ones to schools, home ed groups with premises etc. All excellent ideas and some have been taken for those purposes, the rest are now on ebay as a big wholesale lot, with a couple of bids already from second hand bookshops, being sold as collection only.

Toys and general ‘stuff’ went through various processes – if we thought it was individually worth something it went on ebay. We have ebayed perfume, mobile phones, decent toys, small electrical appliances, branded clothing and raised several £100s. I confess to not liking ebay. The process of photographing, listing etc is time consuming and boring, the disappointment when something goes for 99p, the worrying that you have ripped someone off when it goes for way more than you expected, the trek to the post office with wrapped up items. But it is an effective way of getting rid of stuff and making money. Stuff not worth ebaying made it to the carboot sale pile. We did two car boot sales and made a decent amount of cash at each – we priced low and sold hard and it was an enjoyable few hours touting our wares in a field. We got rid of clothes, shoes, toys, more electrical stuff. Anything that didn’t sell was donated to a charity shop on the way home.

Freecycle has been another route for getting rid of stuff. I love freecycle, we’ve done well from it over the years and it’s nice to give stuff back. Toys have gone to grateful new homes, furniture we no longer need has gone to sit in someone else’s home and it’s saving landfill from our rubbish.

So decluttering stuff – easy to find new homes for pretty much anything once you have made the decision to remove it from your life: sell it, give it, donate it.

But I guess that’s not the hard bit is it really? Time consuming, means for a time you end up with more mess than when you started as everything is strewn about the place awaiting decisions but the tough bit is actually making the decision to let stuff go in the first place. To accept that you don’t need to hang onto it ‘just in case’, that there may one day come a moment when you slap your forehead and ask ‘why did I get rid of X? It would be worth £500 now / would be perfect to have in this very situation’ but it’s a small chance and probably worth the risk.

I read something the other day about too much choice preventing us from actually making a decision and I think that’s true. Faced with a jam packed wardrobe of clothes, most of which you have never worn it’s really tricky to think which item to wear, faced with a solid wall of books it’s very hard to select just one title to pull off the shelf to read. Who does that layer thing? That mental segregation or even physical dividing of stuff – the clothes you wear all the time and usually choose something for today from that often don’t even make it back into the wardrobe but move just between the dirty washing, the clean washing and the on your back? Who has a full bookcase but generally selects books to read from the pile beside the bed which is a pre-selected ‘read next’ pile of newer books or library books or ones a friend has given with a ‘you MUST read this’ recommendation. So maybe accept that actually you don’t need all the unworn clothes in the wardrobe, the unread books on the shelf and unused lotions and potions in your bathroom, sauces and spices in your kitchen and let them go.

I’ve let some interesting things go during this process. One was the box of cards we were given when we had Dragon and then Star. I also had folded up helium balloons in the box along with the hospital wrist band for Dragon (Star was born at home). A big box that has moved with us twice, never been opened to look at and if we were not doing this declutter and questioning every single thing we keep would probably have remained in the loft and moved with us if we changed address again. We looked at every card, racked our brains in some cases to recall some of the people the cards were from and then put them in the recycling bin. Did that make you shudder? Realistically they mean nothing, they were good wishes to us for our new babies who are now strapping young children. The good wishes came true, we now have years worth of memories and photos and times spent with those babies. If we stash those cards away again all we are doing is leaving those babies with a legacy of one day having to clear those cards away themselves; dustier, more curled at the edges and with even less chance of anyone knowing who they were from in the first place.

When we bought our house 17 years ago it was on the market as the owner had died. Mr and Mrs Rowe were the only previous owners, buying the house new when it was built in 1950 or so. They had no children and listening to our neighbours accounts of the elderly couple they were nice people, happy together living here until Mrs Rowe died a few years before Mr Rowe and he grew gradually more reclusive and less able-bodied. I think he eventually lived pretty much in one room. The house was cheap, run down and needing lots of work and being sold by a neice and two nephews with proceeds going three ways. The house was cleared by a clearance company and when we first viewed it the contents were still here, ready marked with destinations ‘Sell’, ‘Skip’ etc. The image of a brown suitcase, laid open on what is now my lounge floor still haunts me. It was marked ‘skip’ and contained some sepia photographs of the young Mr and Mrs Rowe along with the something blue garter I assume she wore on their wedding day. I don’t know why they didn’t have children or anything else about them but I know all of their collected stuff was one day picked over by someone and consigned, probably without any emotion, to it’s next destination. I don’t want to burden Dragon and Star with piles of stuff to make harsh decisions over one day after I’m gone, I’d rather read those baby cards one last time, smile at the remembering of those crazy early days of new parenthood, wishing people would stop sending flowers as the doorbell invariably rang and woke a baby I had just lulled to sleep or enjoying recalling how others shared our joy at the birth of our babies. Not cold or unemotional, but not needing pieces of cardboard locked in the attic either.

I’m not necessarily advocating a life without possessions (although that would be an interesting concept). Even in the van we will have the need for useful things, precious things and pretty things. For each of us these conjur up different ideas. For me precious things are not always valuable and valuable things are not always precious. I recently sold a small pile of jewellry I have had for years. I don’t wear much – wedding and eternity ring, a ring of my grandmothers that my Dad gave me at the same time as my wedding ring (which was also hers), a watch from Niagara Falls that Ady bought me when we visited when I was pregnant with Dragon. I have a locket my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 16, a gold bracelet they bought me for my 21st birthday and a necklace Ady bought me for our first Christmas together (all of the ones I don’t wear need repairing). I also had various necklaces, rings and other gold that meant nothing to me, I didn’t like and never wore. Selling it paid for the service on the van. I will keep the few bits that do mean something to me but they are small enough to fit into my purse – one day I might get them repaired to wear again or I might do as a friend recently told me her mother had done with a heap of gold she had that she didn’t like but had sentimental value and have it melted down and made into something I will wear all the time instead. Other precious possessions of mine include a giant wooden clock which hangs on my lounge wall and Ady bought me for my 21st birthday. That will be kept (I don’t think we could hang it in the van!) and will again grace the wall of any other lounge I live in and probably one day hang in Dragon or Star’s lounge I hope. I do have photo albums and framed pictures I love and we will keep those to again hang up, place on shelves when we settle into a house again. They are defining, personal things that make where I live my home. They are on display and I see them every day, I would miss them from my life if they were not there. Anything that does not fit into this category fails to be precious in my opinion and then unless it is useful it doesn’t justify it’s place.

So look around, walk yourself around your home and see what falls into the categories of precious, pretty or useful. The rest is just stuff. Letting stuff go is A Good Thing, it frees up space, lets go of the guilt of not using those things, can raise money, give you a good feeling to know it is now being used elsewhere. Dance in the open spaces it leaves in your home, rejoice in the lack of things creating and capturing dust, spend the money you make on something that *isn’t* stuff, something freeing, something to celebrate releasing yourself from the shackles of stuff.

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