By Kathy Izard
In my life, I have become somewhat of a pack rat. From the sentimental (letter, photo, memento) to the practical (receipt, paperwork, record) whatever I wasn’t sure I needed again, I kept. There was not a system, just an odd drawer or file or box that held all the “someday I might want.” Which added up to a lot of junk drawers and boxes.
My day of reckoning arrived last October when we sold the home we had lived in for twenty-six years. Suddenly, all the ‘somedays’ were that day as we had to decide to keep or discard two decades of stuff. We were building a new house that would not be ready yet so we were downsizing from a 4000 square feet two-story home to 1200 square feet apartment. Which meant every single item in our house, from paperwork to potted plant to porch furniture needed a decision: keep, store, donate or pitch.
“Keep” meant actually moving into our apartment and physically remaining with us. “Store” meant putting into storage and hope we remembered where to find it after a year. “Donate” meant usable items we would let go of for a better home and “Pitch” meant admitting I never should have been hanging onto them in the first place.
Two floors, five bedrooms, an attic and a garage all needed sorting—and quickly because we had a buyer eager to move in. Overwhelmed by the task, I texted Laurie Martin with Simplicity Organizers and asked for help. We had gotten to know each other thought the nonprofit work of Simplicity Serves where she had organized a book giveaway for Windsor Park Elementary School. I figured if Laurie could plan and sort a book drive of 5,000 books for 800 kids she could probably handle my house.
Laurie and her team of three arrived early on a Friday and described what we were about to do. We would begin in the kitchen and take every (yes every item) out of the cabinet and lay it out for inspection. Then, we would make a decision about each—keep, store, donate, pitch. The method worried me “Everything?” I asked. Laurie nodded.
As Laurie and I began together with a cabinet of glasses, her team swarmed the cabinets in quiet efficiency carefully moving one cabinet at a time to the kitchen table. Fully displayed in the sunlight, it was easier to make decisions.
Did I really have seven almost identical Pyrex dishes? Stacked in the dark cabinet I had never seen all the duplicates so clearly. When did I accumulate six cookies sheets, three of which were embarrassingly brown and burnt looking?
On full display in this way, the decisions became so clear. It felt almost like a game show as I tried to decide quickly so we could move on to the next cabinet. Laurie would point to one of five glass pitchers, ‘Keep!” the next one, “Store!” so the final three easily determined, “Donate!”
Laurie’s team would whisk away to the appropriate piles and then magically begin boxing or loading their cars with items to be donated. Trash bags lined our garage wall ready for pickup.
It didn’t feel sad, it felt liberating. To have all those things I had thought I needed ready to move on with us or finally taken to someone else who might love them more.
The den with photos and mementos was more difficult but there was a process there, too. A plastic bin for each of our four daughters and one for our family. Framed photos were boxed to take to our apartment and others, stored for our new home. Items significant to each girl were placed in their bin so they could decide what to keep, store, donate, or pitch.
We moved through our home with surprising efficiency. A few times mired in the sentimentality of an item versus its relative size or value for keeping. That oversize mirror with the frame I had never liked but from grandma’s house, finally given away. The child’s dressing table with a broken leg that I promised to repair and save for the next generation, finally parted with.
By the end of the day, I felt exhausted and yet, simultaneously exhilarated. I had loved seeing so much of our life again—the wedding presents, the vacation mementos, the soccer trophies—but realizing I didn’t need the stuff to remember. If I erred on the side of heavy it was books both paperback and hardback and photo albums. Here I went deep into “Keep!” and created bins of loose photos to make more scrapbooks. So much of our life captured in 4 x 6 matte memories that meant so much more could fade away. Who needs an ivory tray from St. Lucia when the real story is written on the happy faces of my daughters with their grandparents on an island beach?
We have been in our apartment six months now with just the ‘basics’ waiting for our home to be finished. I have realized this streamlined version of our lives is pretty great. Charlie and I share a closet for the first time since our newlywed home and it is not all bad. My morning choices are pretty straightforward and my favorite sweaters easy to slip on. In the second bedroom closet are all the items we thought we had to have with us rather than drive the two miles to the storage unit. It is a closet with boxes and bins and I haven’t looked in there once in six months. I can’t even remember what I thought was so important. Now, I am tempted to not even look in them and drive all the bins to Goodwill.
Similarly, we have two storage units that I should have inventoried but didn’t. I was sure when we packed it all away in January, I would absolutely remember what was in there and where to find it. Now, I have absolutely no idea and I haven’t missed a thing. Frankly, it looks like furniture Jenga, dozens of blanket and duct taped wrapped chests, chairs, tables and lamps with only bulky outlines as hint to what I once thought of value. Maybe we will move it in, or maybe we will just donate the whole lot. Let another family build their memories.
It feels really good to travel light. I think I will keep unpacking.
Want help decluttering your home? Simplicity Organizers in Charlotte
Kathy Izard is an award-winning author and speaker who helped bring transformation to Charlotte in homelessness, housing and mental health. Kathy writes inspirational nonfiction including, The Hundred Story Home and her newest release, The Last Ordinary Hour written to help people who have been shattered by untimely death or unexpected diagnosis live in faith not fear. Kathy’s work has been featured on the Today Show inspiring people to be changemakers in their communities. Learn more www.kathyizard.com