Thursday, March 24, 2011

Serious Sorting



I hate to break it to you but my posts might start sounding like a broken record. Ever since my husband got the news of our impending move to Colorado, our life has been turned upside down. And much like my repeated themes of ‘letting go’ this time last year, as my oldest daughter was nearing her high school graduation, the new theme for the next few weeks might be ‘packing up and letting go’.

This week our lives centered around sorting through stuff. It’s a topic that many of my co-workers could relate to. You don’t have to be moving to be interested in the topic of cleaning out stuff you don’t need. In every stage of life there is a point you have to stop, regroup, sort out, and move on.

Every elementary school child knows the feeling. The last day of school is exciting and all, but in the end, that desk has to be free of personal stuff by the time the last bell rings. It usually means hauling home a big, brown grocery sack full of assorted papers and old pencils, that will be thrown under the bed until mom’s next cleaning frenzy.

Every freshly graduated kid, heading off to college, knows the drill. The entire contents of their bedroom is under the microscope, analyzed for its nostalgia factor. Every poster on the wall, every tattered stuffed animal, and every trophy sitting on a shelf gets its moment of decision. Is it important enough to be thrown into the box labeled ‘take to college’? Will it end up in the box headed for mom and dad’s attic? Or has it’s useful time been used up, its final destination to be a donation center?

Those of us who have lost parents have gone through it in a different way. It’s an odd feeling to be making those same kinds of decisions about someone else’s stuff. I will never forget the uneasiness I felt as my sisters and I sorted through my mom’s closet, as a favor to my dad, after she passed away. I turned to one of my sisters and said, “I just can’t get over the feeling that mom’s going to be really mad when she comes home and finds out we’ve given all of her stuff away…”

And then there are those of us who move a lot. Military families understand. They pack up and move at a moment’s notice and rarely complain about it. I have a friend who has six children and thinks nothing of moving every year or two, following her Marine husband’s career. She runs a streamlined ship and keeps me inspired.

We haven’t moved as much as she has but we’ve done our fair share. This will be our fourth move in ten years. It’s enough to make us feel like we halfway know what we’re doing this time around. Some aspects are similar with every move - the selling of the old house, the life in temporary housing, and the search for the new place we’ll call home. And of course, the sorting of the stuff.

We’ve been in New York for five years. That means you have to compute the following equation: Six people, times five years, adding in a dozen sports and a half a dozen hobbies…oh yeah, and thirty different birthday celebrations and five Christmas celebrations (that brought in countless assorted gifts) and you’re talking a lot of…um…“treasures’.

Which is why a very large dumpster was delivered to my driveway last weekend. We started with the garage and by mid morning we had finally found the floor. At lunchtime we all stepped back, admired our finally efficient space, and took a deep breath. It was now time to hit the basement, otherwise known as the place to throw things that we didn’t know what to do with.

Through one weekend we cleaned and purged. Everything was touched and analyzed. The giveaway pile filled the living room. The dumpster gradually became less empty. There is something about moving to a new house, in a new state, to make you feel like starting over.

For a few months I’ve known this move might be coming. I could have started the deep cleaning six months ago. But I didn’t. It’s easier to keep stuff if you think you might be staying. All the unused coloring books and fresh boxes of crayons I bought dirt cheap at back to school sales, but never used, were very comfortable in the cabinet upstairs. But once I knew I would have to pack them, move them, then unpack them, if I wanted to keep them, they easily went to the giveaway pile. All the stuff I tell myself I might use ‘some day’ is looked at with fresh eyes.

I look forward to setting up a more streamlined house in Colorado. It begins by clearing out all the extras before the moving truck even comes. But it continues by thinking, really thinking, about every item I bring into my house. Do we really need it? Is there justification for making room for it? Is there a way I could comfortably live without it?

I’ve been blessed with several cross country moves, in that they have forced me, time after time, to rethink what surrounds us in our home. It can be freeing to realize how little it takes to really be content. I’m hoping this is our last move for a decade or so. But maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to pretend, every year or two, that a move is coming. It might help me keep our house more orderly and peaceful.

And maybe, just maybe, I can avoid having another dumpster in my driveway five years from now.

2 comments:

theelfqueen said...

I miss a few posts and find out... OH MY GOSH! You're moving HERE??? I'm in Colo Spgs!

Sandra @ Albany Kid said...

It's funny. I've never lived anywhere as long as I've lived in upstate NY, and some days I miss the renewal that comes from moving around. But I don't envy you the heart-wrenching process of editing your possessions and connections to your current home.