When you get to a certain age, you might find that you have too much stuff. Maybe you downsized and your stuff doesn’t fit in your new home. Maybe your kids left home and left their stuff behind — then told you five years later that they didn’t want it. Maybe your parents died and you inherited their stuff — and discovered that they had all of their parents’ stuff.
Having too much stuff is stressful. Dealing with it takes energy — and money, if you rent storage space, as many of us do. You may be embarrassed to have friends over because your house is so cluttered. Your children may hint that you’re a hoarder because they’ve been watching reality shows.
There is help. The Provincetown Council on Aging offers a class on dealing with clutter called “Buried in Treasure.” It’s led by Carol Bishop, a sympathetic soul who understands what you are going through. (She is also willing to take some small items to the Truro Swap Shop for you.)
When I first attended the class last winter, I was secretly ashamed of my lack of progress against clutter. I had moved here, to what had been my parents’ summer residence, and brought most of what I had in my house in Virginia and a lot of what had been in their house in Washington, D.C. I had had several yard sales but still had a full moving van. It was emotionally difficult to give away items that had been my mother’s. I felt I was letting her down. So I did sneak dropoffs at the Methodist Church — running an item in and rushing away afterward.
What I found in the class was full acceptance. Every problem I described was admitted to by at least four or five other people. As the weeks went on, I made a list of the pros and cons of decluttering.
The cons were, first, feeling like I am preparing for my own death: precleaning my house so my daughter doesn’t have to. But when I told my daughter about the class, she came to take away some of the stuff. Most went to Goodwill.
Second, feeling like I am giving up on myself: the me that will one day be thin again, the me that should be on the stage, the me that is athletic. But the truth is I was never thin, I have stage fright, and I have always been an uncoordinated athlete. Maybe what I am actually doing is making room for the real me.
Third, right after you get rid of something the house feels more lonely. But that feeling goes away quickly. Now it feels more manageable. And finally, it’s exhausting, both physically and mentally. But that’s why the class helps.
The pros: I have a better idea of what I own. In my cluttered house, I couldn’t find things — so I would buy a second one, and sometimes a third. No more accidental duplicates means that I save money. My overall organization is better, so I can find what I need more quickly. And I know that I love what I have instead of having stuff I don’t really love.
Having taken the class, I have made some rules for decluttering.
- In making decisions about what to keep, pretend that you are someone else — someone who loves you and wants only the best for you.
- Don’t let other people tell you what to keep, even if the conversation is only in your head (like with my mother). If you think someone will be upset with you if you get rid of something but they don’t want it in their own house, that’s just too bad for them.
- Choose only a few items to remember people by.
- When you have collections of things, lay everything out so you see what you own. It makes it easier to choose what you want to keep the most.
- Don’t keep clothes that don’t fit, that you don’t feel comfortable wearing, that are not really your style, or that are damaged.
- Don’t keep things you don’t love. Help the items you don’t really want find their way to a new home where they will be appreciated.
- It’s OK to do a little at a time and to take breaks.
Buried in Treasure starts up again, after a summer break, at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Provincetown COA. It is free, but you must pre-register. I will be there because there is more I need to do — 40 boxes of books, anyone? — and I need the support. If you need this kind of help, I hope you will come.
Julia Perry lives in Provincetown.