Two weeks ago, I was standing in my guest bedroom up to my knees in cardboard boxes, and dusty old shit.
Everything was there. The boxes and boxes of stuffed animals and Beanie Babies that have followed me from house to house since I was a kid. A bag of ancient, crumpled baby clothes my mom didn’t want to throw out and gave to me instead. I don’t want kids; these items held no future promise of use.
If you looked through each box, you could see exactly who I was at 4, 7, 12, 18, and 22.
At 29, I stood there thinking, what the fuck am I going to do with all of this?
I knew I had to identify my own patterns.
I’m a chronic thrower-outer… mostly. I can get rid of things I’ve purchased for myself without a second thought: if I don’t need it, what’s the use in keeping it? The problem is when I want/need to toss something someone has given me.
When it comes to downsizing, there seems to be three struggle zones:
- ⏃ The zone where we don’t know how to organize our shit.
⏃ The zone where we have so much STUFF we don’t even know where to start.
⏃ The zone where we feel wasteful about throwing items away.
If you watched TLC in the early 2000s, you know how big of a boner everyone had for the keep / donate / recycle method. But what about when you’re emotionally attached to the things you’re trying to remove?
You can learn how to organize, put effort into downsizing, and buy a storage solution, but getting over the hump of emotional attachment is more complicated than that. It doesn’t have a simple solution.
That’s what I realized when I was standing there, up to my knees in – well – junk.
I felt guilty about severing my attachment to these items, and that’s why they had successfully followed me from house to house and city to city over the last ten years. I SAW TOY STORY 3, OKAY. And it fucked me up.
The more I sat and debated what I was going to do with these glassy-eyed teddy bears and boxes full of dolls, the worse I felt. I knew getting rid of these things would make me feel good – eventually – but I’d have to rip the bandaid off, quick.
Here’s what you need to know about getting rid of stuff.
- ⏃ Your junk doesn’t want to sit alone in a box or bag. Why squirrel away old stuffed animals when someone else could enjoy and love them?
⏃ It can be overwhelming and emotionally taxing to go through everything at once. If you can, split your pile up into boxes or Rubbermaids, and go through one per week.
⏃ Your memory is not the physical item.
⏃ Ask yourself if you’re keeping the item because you want it, or because you feel indebted to it or the person who gave it to you.
⏃ Let yourself keep the very important things. Designate a space for your memories, and allow yourself to fill that shelf or box. If something doesn’t fit, either it or another item goes.
⏃ Crossing unfinished business off your list will free up time + energy for future you. Recycle the project you never finished, donate the ~skinny pants~ you’ll never fit back into, and sell the jewelry you haven’t worn in ten years.
Remember you don’t have to throw everything in the garbage.
This, more than anything else, is where I ran into a wall over and over again. Remember the Toy Story thing? IT WAS VERY THAT.
I couldn’t get past the (very emotionally charged) vision of all my childhood toys sitting forgotten in some garbage bin somewhere. Even if I donated everything in one go to a company like Goodwill, part of me knew a large majority would still be thrown out.
So here’s what I did.
First, I took pictures and made a memory photobook.
I individually photographed each toy and knick-knack. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing – I just knew that, to take a photo of something, is to collect it.
Which is nice in theory. In reality, those pictures sat on my harddrive for EVER (and honestly let’s not even get into digital cleaning) until one day, it hit me like a brick to the side of the head: a photobook.
Why hadn’t that occurred to me before?!
So, I googled around and found a photobook site I liked – Mixbook – and then took all of my sentimental pictures, and wrote a little caption for each of them that included the memory.
Here’s a coupon for Mixbook since I subscribe to their deals emails:
I started giving away my belongings piece by piece.
Once I realized it was easier for me to get rid of something when I had a reason to give it away, things changed for me.
First, I hit up as many local organizations as I could – their Facebook pages are usually a great place to start, and often, they’ll post requests for items as they need them.
I had winter jackets, blankets, and canned food. Those went to Mustard Seed. Next up, dog toys and comforters to a dog rescue group. I picked out all of the stuffed animals I had that were still brand new or with tags (and yes, there were a few) and those went to a Christmas hamper drive for chidren in need.
I realized that there was an actual NEED for things I already had.
Once I began to gain forward momentum, it became easier. I found a used buy and sell app called Varage Sale, and started listed things on there. I made a little cash that way, too.
Now, almost two years later, it’s second nature to me to pass on something that I no longer need. I spend time in the room that was, at one point, filled with childhood possessions I’d never use again, every single day.
You own your possessions. They don’t own you.