Letting Go and Making Room

beautiful but way too complicated cross-stitch project.
This is the cross-stitch pattern I mention in this post. Isn’t it beautiful?

I had planned at some point do a write-up about all the different blogs and podcasts I follow, and maybe I’ll still do that, but perhaps it’s a better idea to deal with some of my favorites on a more individual basis. So today I’m taking ideas from two blogs, one a recent discovery and one that I’ve followed for some time. They each deal with the concept of simplifying and decluttering, and they each wrote a recent post that together form a unified whole. (I had a terrible time with that previous sentence.)

So the blog I’ve been following for some time is “Happy Simple Living” authored by Eliza Cross. If you follow me on my Facebook author page you saw the post I put up yesterday about her moment of truth in the garage as she contemplated two bins labeled “bookends.” She realized that those bins represented her dreams that someday she’d put them to use in a happy home; that those items represented the hopes she had going into a marriage that failed. I won’t try to re-tell the story here; I’d encourage you to follow the link above and read it for yourself. In the end, she decides to get rid of them. They represent a life she no longer leads, and they’ve been sitting unused for 11 years. Time to accept reality and move on.

The newer discovery is A Slob Comes Clean, authored by Dana K. White. The link is to a post, but I think I first heard about the principle she discusses in a podcast. And her search bar isn’t for her site itself but for Google, which I find totally irritating. However, in spite of all this, I would recommend that you take a look at her site. Here’s the principle she lays out: you should determine the amount of stuff you keep by the space you have to contain it, not the other way around. Instead of saying, “I have 50 cookbooks that I need to find space for,” you should say, “I can only keep the number of cookbooks that will fit on my cookbook shelf.” You see how this works? I had never thought about this idea in quite this way before. If you insist on keeping all 50 cookbooks, then the ones that can’t fit on the shelf will have to be squirreled away somewhere else, virtually assuring that you’ll never use them. Will you ever say, “Oh, right, I need that recipe in the cookbook I boxed up and put in the garage. Let me go out there, get the stepstool, manhandle the heavy box down from the top shelf, open it up, and dig through the contents until I find the book I want.” Never gonna happen! So just get rid of the second-tier ones. I will say to my own credit that I’ve done this very thing with my cookbook collection, although I didn’t quite realize what principle I was following. An even more draconian method would be for me to go through all my cookbooks and rip out the pages with recipes I actually use, scan them into my computer, and throw the books away. But I actually like to read cookbooks, and I do go through them, or at least some of them, periodically, So I’ll hang onto the ones that fit on my very inconvenient shelf . . . for now.

Putting these two principles together is very helpful, as they reinforce each other. Here’s a good way to state them:

1. This is the life I have now, and the space I have now.

2. I therefore keep only the stuff that fits into those two categories and refuse to hang onto the stuff that doesn’t.

A lot of the stuff we keep but don’t use falls into two categories:

1. Stuff that represents an activity or task that I think I should do but which I don’t do. I had a whole drawerful of needlework kits and patterns that I have now cleared out. One in particular was a huge cross-stitch pattern for this totally lovely picture that I had fallen in love with on an online cross-stitch site. I didn’t realize until I decided to start it that it was like a needlepoint pattern in that every single bit of fabric had stitching on it. Did I at that point say, “Are they crazy?” No. I went to the Creative Needle shop and spent probably an hour (and a lot of money) picking out all the thread I needed. I spent even more time figuring out how to sort the thread out, bagging up the various color families and labeling each bag. At some point my son asked me if I was crazy. (The correct answer was “yes.”) I told myself that I was going to work on it every night for half an hour. But it was never going to happen. It was just too hard and complicated. Hobbies are supposed to be fun, after all. So I ended up packing the whole schemozzle up and mailing it to a site that buys needlework kits on consignment. In the end, I received a check for about 1/6 of what I paid for all the materials originally. I really hope that the person who bought it will get a great deal of enjoyment out of it as she (or he—who knows?) works on it. At least I got it out of my drawer.

2. Stuff that we feel some kind of attachment or obligation to, often because of their history. I’m not going to get into this whole sentimental thingy here. My thoughts on this subject are well known! It’s very satisfying to actually use something from the past, though. I have my mother’s old nut chopper, and I often think of her when I use it, as I did just this morning as I made Gideon’s farewell coffeecake for breakfast. (He leaves to go back to grad school today.) My brother ended up with some of the old Jewel Tea dinnerware that we used when we were growing up, and he has it displayed on top of their kitchen cabinets. It’s like a little blast from the past every time I see the pitcher and platter up there. But to hang onto things just to hang onto them . . . well, what’s the point?

As I typed this I was reminded of a couple of lines from Clouds of Witness: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery, a description of a beautiful woman as she emerges from a dark doorway:

She might have just risen from her far tomb in the Pyramids, dropping the dry and perfumed grave-bands from her fingers.

Sort of weird the way my mind works sometimes! But I like that image of emerging from the darkness and shaking off the old remnants of the past. Take it for what it’s worth.

And go throw out some stuff!

(Link to the Wimsey novel is an affiliate link; if you follow it and buy the book from Amazon, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.)

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