Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One Person's Story: Moving and Decluttering

PODS storage container

This guest post comes from reader Lee in the Midwestern U.S.; she sent me an e-mail with this message, and then gave me permission to share it with all of you. I thought Lee's story might resonate with many other readers.

We just moved out of the house where we had lived since 1974. It was the home where we learned about renovating an old house. It was the home we brought our two babies to after they were born (they're now 31 and almost 26). It was in the neighborhood where we and our children made lifelong friends. And it contained almost everything we ever owned (excluding real trash, pet waste, etc.).

I had saved toys and baby clothes for our someday grandchildren. I wanted to be the grandmother who had Daddy's old toys to play with. By the time we were ready to move them, almost all of the plastic toys (Fisher Price, Little Tykes) had deteriorated so badly that they had to be thrown in the dumpster. Fortunately, the Legos - and surprisingly, the stuffed animals - survived. It saddens me to think of the joy I could have given a child by giving him or her one of the plastic toys when they were still usable.

I have five bottles of Lysol toilet bowl cleaner that you squirt under the bowl rim and four cans of Lysol cleaning foam. We only had two bathrooms. We had at least six pairs of Fiskars scissors and countless scissors of other brands. I think everything was so cluttered that we couldn't find something, so we just bought another "whatever."

We found lots of small pieces of glassware and other antiques in the basement. We didn't like them well enough to use them upstairs and couldn't remember whose relative's estate they were from or if they came from someone's garage sale. Really special, huh?

It took us months to move and we finally rented the biggest POD available and bagged the rest of the stuff and threw it in the POD. What an unnecessary expense.

I'm happy to report that the POD has been emptied and sent back, but the garage spaces are full of "stuff" and the cars are parked outside in the snow. We are trying to be very ruthless as we go through things.

Two things have helped me to be ruthless as opposed to my usual sentimental self. A friend who had just helped her parents move from a huge home on Long Island where they had raised their three daughters to an assisted living facility insisted that I read Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much. We rewrote his questions based on how we wanted to use the rooms in our new house and if something isn't needed in a room, we don't need it and it's "out."

Also, we got to know many missionaries who were coming off or preparing to go to the mission field. One woman, who had several children, talked about having to pare her family's possessions so they, along with the washer and dryer, would fit in a 10 foot square shipping crate. If I'm now having trouble deciding the fate of an object, I just ask myself if it would earn a spot in the crate.


Jennifer T. said...

Thank you for sharing that letter.
I'm going to be moving to a much smaller space and really need to learn to let go of stuff I'm not using or "might need" someday!

Nancy Giehl said...

This letter made me want to throw up my hands and shout "Alleluia." As the owner of a small business that helps people downsize and move I can't begin to tell you how many people have trouble with this.

I've seen so many people not only waste thousands of dollars, by keeping, moving and storing stuff they don't use but expending huge amounts of time and energy, too. Because of that my partner and I wrote a workbook, Organize Pack Move! Strategies and Money-Saving Tips to Simplify Your Move.

JustGail said...

thank you Lee and Jeri - it's reading things like this that make me realize I should keep on trudging thru the accumulation I have. And keep re-visiting what I do keep, if only to check on its condition.

kbfenner said...

Thank you for sharing this. I just came back from a grocery/drugstore/pet food store trip motivated largely by coupons. I only really needed dog food. I spent more on things I didn't need (Valentine's chocolate and potato chips when I'm trying desperately to lose weight) to offset any value of the coupons, plus I bought duplicates--back-ups to back-ups, of things we do use. The several bottles of Lysol really resonated with me.
if I spent more time cleaning and organizing, and less buying cleaning and organizing products....
Oh, well. Tomorrow is another day....

Jeri Dansky said...

Thank you all for the comments; I'm so glad you enjoyed reading Lee's reflections, and found them motivating.

Lee said...

I'm happy that some of you have related to or found some inspiration in our story. I really liked our new house when we we brought over only the basics needed to be albe to spend the night and eat. With each load, I liked it less and less. That has helped us to be as ruthless as we can be at the moment. It's easier to get rid of the items that have deteriorated or are totally ugly or worthless, but much harder to go to the next layer where we really have to think about keeping or kicking it out. Best of luck to those of you going through this process or at least thinking about it.

Alison Burtt said...

Thanks for this, Jeri. I think it really will resonate with a lot of people. It seems like a lot of us keep things "just in case". I'm still trying to train myself to get rid of stuff "just because I don't have room for it"!

I posted this to our company's Facebook page I liked it so much: !

Jeri Dansky said...

Alison, thank you for sharing this with Hardwood Artisans' Facebook fans!

Regarding "just in case" stuff: Many of these items could be easily re-bought for little money - or even borrowed from a friend or neighbor - in the off chance we wind up needing them. And in holding onto things for some unlikely future, we sometimes make our todays much less pleasant and productive!

And, as Lee notes, many items deteriorate over time. (That's even more true if they aren't stored well - and many such items are not stored well.) So if we give them away (or sell them), everyone wins; someone gets use of them today, and we have spaces that serve us better.

Some "just in case" items have their place: well-chosen emergency supplies, for example. But many just-in-case items just don't serve their owners very well.

Karen said...

Oh my goodness, how true is this: "I really liked our new house when we we brought over only the basics needed to be able to spend the night and eat. With each load, I liked it less and less." Thank you, Lee! I completely relate. When I moved in June, I was pretty ruthless, but I feel like there's still so much stuff taking up space. There might be another move when the lease ends, and I will keep this in mind.

I'm not an awfully sentimental person -- I still haven't done the baby footprint thing, and the girl's 2! -- but I have four pairs of scissors, and I use them all. I want scissors in every room of the house for emergency tag removal. And who knows where we'll be when the baby agrees to a haircut? :)

billf said...

I think I could have written this story. My wife and I have to be the biggest pack rats ever. I dread the day we decide to move :-) We really need to start paring down in anticipation of what might happen should we decide to move.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Great letter to share with your readers!

Moving is a great motivator to unclutter, but the problem is that most of us don't have or don't allow enough time to do the necessary sorting and tossing before moving day arrives. Better to be prepared long before there's even a hint of a move on the horizon. (I speak from unprepared experience!)

As Lee does, I use the term, "ruthless," to describe dealing with the stuff that's got to go. Sometimes there's just no other way to approach the process.

I'm going to go be ruthless right now -- closet cleaning!

Jeri Dansky said...

Billf, I think Cynthia addresses your point perfectly!

Karen and Cynthia, I find it so interesting that both of you (and Lee) use the word "ruthless" - since it's one I never use working with clients. It has such a negative connotation to me - but maybe that's not the common reaction. (OK, dictionary time. Ruthless = pitiless, without ruth. Ruth = pity, compassion.) But if "ruthless" works for you, go for it!

I still like Peter Walsh's way of looking at things, in the book Lee mentions. You start by imagining the life you want to live; then you imagine your ideal living space. And then you can ask this question about each item you own: "Does this item enhance and advance the vision I have for the life I want, or does it impede that vision?" It's a fantastic book.

Liz Jenkins said...

What a great story - I love it when a client "gets it" during our work - but when someone does this on their own - that's awesome. Lee's story is one that so many people can relate to - and hopefully make changes in their lives sooner instead of waiting for someday. Jeri - thanks for posting.

DebraC said...

Great story. It's amazing what we are led to do when we have to contain or reduce our possessions.
Somehow all that stuff that you thought you definitely needed becomes junk. Thanks for sharing the story.

Jeri Dansky said...

Debra and Liz: I'm glad you liked it! Thanks go to Lee for telling her story.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I've been thinking about the use of the term, "ruthless," to figure out why it resonates with some people.

I agree that Peter Walsh's approach is a great way to begin analyzing how we want to live. It shakes up complacent thinking and forces us to jump into the present (as you well know, Jeri, much difficulty with clutter arises from attachment to things that represent the past). Asking ourselves the questions you cited from his book is a positive, gentle way to help us move forward.

But for many of us, even after gaining a clear or at least clearer vision of how we want to live, confronting the actual objects that are in our way can still bog us down. Sometimes the task requires an emotional steeliness that I can only describe as ruthless.

I guess Peter Walsh's approach is like being your own therapist; being ruthless is like being your own drill sergeant. Sometimes we just have to get tough with ourselves to get the job done.

But if I were a client working with a pro organizer, I'd want the "therapist!" Nobody gets ruthless with my stuff but me!

Lee said...

I had a moment of doubt about whether I had used "ruthless" correctly. I wonder if it comes from the story of Ruth in the Old Testament in the Bible, as she was a compassionate woman. Now I use it when I'm ready to get down to the business of decluttering - the book, system, or therapist has worked and I'm not going to spend 15 minutes and a tissue going down memory lane with each toy I pick up (I've really done that).

I think it's better (the ultimate goal) for us to be ruthless with our own possessions, as it means that we've bought into the program and are doing this because we have chosen to, but we still have control over the process. But if I thought someone else was going to come into my home and be ruthless, I'd probably refuse to cooperate or not even let them in the door.

I do acknowledge that there are situations where someone else being ruthless with another person's possessions is the only option. I was probably close to that and still may need that kind of help in specific areas as I continue to unpack boxes.

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia and Lee, thank you both for the thoughtful comments, helping me understand the "ruthless" thing.

Janet Barclay said...

I've also held on to things for a possible future special occasion, only to toss them out later because they didn't last. Now if I like something, I use it while I can.