Letting Go: Getting Rid of the Clutter

We live on a hill surrounded by beautiful mountains but the 2 ½ hour commute to and from work every day is a killer. Although we love our surroundings we know we have to move. We’ve moved before and have always taken our precious stuff with us. This time, it’s different.

Retirement and Downsizing

We are close to retirement age and desperately need to downsize and find a smaller place to live, plus I have to do something about my lengthy commute. Our realtor, in a helpful and kind manner, suggested that if we want to sell our house we have to rethink what to do with all our stuff. I knew this was coming and really dreaded the thought of sifting through what seems to be a ton of lifelong belongings in the house and garage.

Where to Start

This is daunting – not only because of the volume of things we’ve carted around for years but I was reluctant to take a nosedive into all those boxes full of memories. The garage presented its own mountain of memorabilia and it was hard to figure out where to start. Start at the front, my husband said, so I began my exploration through the many boxes stacked at the front of the garage.

Sorting It Out

It became clear rather quickly that I needed to begin a sorting process – things to keep, things to donate, and things to throw away. So far, I’ve left over 60 bags for the trash and have more to come. It became more difficult, however, to weed through the stuff to keep and the stuff to donate.

Memories, Memories and More Memories

Many of the boxes in the garage haven’t been opened in over 17 years. That’s when I moved things from my parents’ home after they died. I even had a number of boxes from my Dad’s restaurant (Al Maharas Steak House) which opened in 1924 and closed in 1967. After 43 years in business there were all sorts of things I kept; menus, promotional postcards, the light that hung above the cashier’s stand, pictures of famous people who frequented our restaurant, an old French phone, white handled steak knives, mugs, paintings that decorated the walls, chef hats, and more. I was close to my Dad and so all of these things meant that I still had a part of him living with us. I thought divide and conquer would be the best tactic here so I split everything and gave half to my brother who lives close by.

 A Lifetime of Belongings

Now for the things that were from the family home and were just mine alone. The year books, the letters from old boyfriends, the stuffed animals, the dollhouse and especially Poor Pitiful Pearl (my beloved childhood doll), figure skates in sizes that fit me from age 3 to age 16, and more things than you could possibly imagine. Many items were discarded but a lot went to charity and some were kept for the great nieces and nephews I hope to have some day.

My Love for Books

Then, there was my parents’ library of books; some of which dated back to the 1880s. This has been the toughest yet. Books say a lot about a person and I felt that my parents’ choice of reading material were reflections of them that my family and I could cherish. I spent a lot of time figuring out what to do with them. There were too many to keep so some went to my brother, some I kept, some went to our local library and some were given to an independent bookstore to be sold. This is a great resource but you have to watch that you don’t increase your book supply again after you get the bookstore’s coupon (to be used at that bookstore) from your books sold.

A Cathartic Experience

Clearing out can make life simpler but the process, at times, was a hard one. There were happy and sad times I revisited as I went through those boxes and there were days I just needed a rest from it all. The upside is that we’re almost done and what started with letting go of things has now moved into losing a bit of myself.

When I started the process of letting go, unburdening myself turned into a physical one. I’ve since started a weight loss program and have lost 15 pounds and counting. Overall, it’s been a good journey.

Now it’s your turn – tell me about your experiences of letting go.

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Marian Maharas is the Director of Marketing for Front Range Community College. She lives in Evergreen, Colorado with her husband, assorted wildlife, a dog and two donkeys.

14 Responses to “Letting Go: Getting Rid of the Clutter”

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January 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm, Kim Stefanski said:

I am praying you did not get rid of Poor Pitiful Pearl. I would be happy to rescue her and provide a home for her.

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January 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm, Marian said:

Thanks for asking. I have no intention of getting rid of Poor Pitiful Pearl. I know that she has become somewhat of a collector’s item but she won my heart many years ago and she will stay with me now.

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January 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm, Monica said:

Oh dear Marian, I can SO relate! We decided rather suddenly to move back west from the east coast about 18 months ago. We got lucky & found a wonderful family to rent our house almost immediately, so had to get stuff in storage FAST. 8 trips to Goodwill & 4 trips to the local AIDS thrift store (oh how happy I was to discover its existence) later, I thought I had done a great job purging. Until the packers came & I still had so much stuff I needed a $350/month storage unit. But there wasn’t time to purge further, so into storage it went. It’s still there. We crammed some clothes & essential kitchen items into the car & headed west like gypsies, or the Joads. We’ve had a great time exploring places and ourselves, and our desires for the future. I know now that as soon as my stuff gets here in a couple of weeks, I’m going to purge a lot more. But not before going through a process, much like yours, full of memories, tears, laughter, smiles … and involving many trips to Goodwill.

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January 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm, Marian said:

I’m envisioning the Joads makin’ their way West, Monica. I wonder, if it wasn’t for the big moves we both intended and in your case made, exactly when would we have gotten to purging our stuff? Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? I love the idea of exploring yourselves as you explore the countryside. When you finally settle you will be more than ready to let go of things that you can part with.

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January 19, 2012 at 8:17 pm, Damien Humphrey said:

My mom would move her things to my apartment whenever she transfers from one apartment to another. Says it’s a lot convenient for her rather than have her things cluttered in her room.

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February 01, 2012 at 2:31 pm, Marian said:

Well, your mother is using one way of organizing her stuff. Sometimes it is easier to coordinate everything when some of it is located elsewhere.

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January 20, 2012 at 10:28 am, Diane Alexander said:

I loved this blog piece. Our stuff is hard to part with but can overwhelm us. And oh, thank you for reminding me of Poor Pitiful Pearl! I had one but she’s long gone. My mother didn’t believe in keeping anything, which is healthy, to a point. Choosing what to keep, toss, or donate is difficult, but I think we do feel lighter afterward!

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February 01, 2012 at 2:38 pm, Marian said:

I definitely feel a bit lighter, Diane. However, there are some things that I just couldn’t part with – Pearl was one of them.

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January 27, 2012 at 8:36 am, Cheryl Hoke said:

Here’s an idea for things that have memories attached, that you don’t want to get rid of but have no use for: Take a photo! Store the photo on your computer, where you can revisit the memory whenever you want. Then donate the item.

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February 01, 2012 at 2:56 pm, Marian said:

This really is a very good idea. I definitely will try it. I’ve put aside some items that I didn’t feel comfortable getting rid of but I really don’t need. A photo might just be the answer. Thanks, Cheryl.

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January 30, 2012 at 3:04 pm, Paul Meese said:

I have only renewed a driver’s license two times in my life. (I am hoping FRCC will make it the third!) After moving so much, we started out being good about sifting through, but I have 2 sentimental kids, so we have a larger collection than I would have if I were single. We still have the bouncy horse my son had at 3 for example; he is now a freshman in college. I do not yet have permission to sell or donate “Macaroni”!
A few moves ago my wife found 3 perfect boxes and carefully packed some glassware from her grandmother. One move we made I was bound and determined to unpack every box we had, but when I came to these three, she would not allow me to unpack them, since they were packed so perfectly. My male logic did not apply here. Three moves later and they are still packed up, and will be for my move out here to CO. Mentally to deal with this, I must refer to them as the time capsule, not to be opened until 50 years has passed. I’m a guy! It’s the only way I can justify moving three boxes with unknown contents move after move after move after….

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February 01, 2012 at 3:13 pm, Marian said:

Your son may have a family one day and Macaroni the horse could be a treasure for his children. I bet that name has an interesting story behind it.
I understand what it’s like to tote around precious items like your wife’s three boxes of glassware from her grandmother – I obviously have done the same thing. There came a time when I finally was able to put my attention and energy to the unpacking. We all have to do it in our own time. Good for you for being so supportive, Paul.

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February 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm, Rhonda Cloos said:

I was thrilled to locate your blog! I, too, have a Poor Pitiful Pearl, as she was my favorite doll. I cannot believe we never discussed this. My Pearl is a replacement; the original was tossed by my family when I went to college. Some years back Horseman (or is it Horsman?) reissued them and I purchased one at that time. Memories….your decluttering process is an inspiration.

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December 26, 2012 at 7:35 pm, Dan pace said:

I just saw your post. A number of us fondly remember your father restaurant. We all miss “That Salad.” If there is any description or recipe for that fabulous salad we would be grateful forever. My former partner owned part of Night Town Restaurant and always wanted to honor your father by putting that salad on the menu. He has died but I would like to put “Al Maharas’s ‘That Salad’ ” on the Tavern Club menu. Your post has brought all sorts of wonderful memories of great meals at your father’s restaurant. Thanks Dan