Sometimes it’s important to find a good home for your things — somewhere else…
(#2079: Little League World Series program, 1962; Donated). Sent this off today to the LLWS Museum as a donation; wrote a note saying it was in honor of my dad, who was a Little League coach and assistant coach and kept score for the game we attended.
Getting rid of my stuff thoughtfully has meant learning to follow a few simple rules in the actual process:
- Avoid putting something in the trash unless it’s really necessary.
- Recycle useless objects when possible.
- Spend at least a moment thinking about the thing and what it has meant to me.
- Find a good home for something which seems to merit one.
In practice, of course, the process has hardly been this pure. Some days I put stuff in the trash without much of a second thought; spending a moment may mean more like a second, for instance recycling a piece of paper which I’m sure has some deeper meaning to me if I thought about it more deeply. This question becomes a key part of the curating process: when to spend time trying to remember or otherwise extract a meaningful moment, and when to simply let it go.
I don’t have reliable go-to answers for this question yet. Here are two good examples: these wooden statuettes are mementos from former ESL students of mine, but I can’t remember the stories behind them. Who gave them to me? What country are they (the students, the statuettes) from? Sadly, I no longer remember. So these two things are in one of my staging nests awaiting a decision about where a good home would be for them.
Conversely, there are objects which have been very hard to let go, many of which I still have. Some of them I’ve handled numerous times, perhaps even a dozen or more in some cases. This has hardly been rational or efficient, but it is still useful in reminding me of the hold my things have on me even now, after having gotten rid of 2,000+ of them (more on that in my next post).
Overall, though, I’ve learned that there is no Right Answer when deciding how much time to spend with each thing since it’s ultimately a very personal decision, but it’s also inevitable that some things will get a lot of attention, and others will get little or no attention.
Freecycle is great for finding a good home for your things more thoughtfully. It will require more effort — creating emails, replying to multiple responses, managing the pickup process, and occasionally having to deal with no-shows. Freecycle is particularly good for generating gratitude — recipients are usually glad to have your item and will often tell you so, which is nice. Even more reliable is feeling grateful to be rid of the things once they’re gone. So Freecycle is a good choice when “finding a good home” is important to you.
What about those things that you don’t care about so much but don’t want to treat as junk either? I’ve found that Goodwill is a good option in this case, and especially good for getting rid of a lot of culled things at one time. I’d never used Goodwill until recently, but I’m starting to run out of items that my other charities of choice will take. Then a few months ago, a colleague told me about he regularly collected items to take to Goodwill en masse, and his story persuaded me that it was a good strategy.
It’s essential to know what items your local Goodwill will take or not take; if you have more than one Goodwill available locally, it’s also essential to find out which one takes the widest selection of stuff. Once you find one of those, it’s culling and assembly time! When I started the 1000 things project, I had a colleague tell me that she got rid of 100 things in one weekend, and it just about killed her! My reaction then was ‘well, no wonder; that’s way too much stuff to tackle in one weekend.’ And it can be too much, depending on the stuff involved and how it’s organized. But since then, I’ve gotten rid of 100 things in one day twice, and both times, it has involved Goodwill. “100 things in one day” is misleading in that I didn’t do all the work in one day; I spent some time culling and organizing into staging nests until I had a sizable collection assembled, then I took it to Goodwill.
That doesn’t mean that Goodwill is always the best solution for your decluttering process. I don’t feel entirely comfortable getting rid of things there because it feels to some extent like I’m somehow passing the problem on to someone else, even though what I’m giving them is not junk. One thing that makes me feel more comfortable about the process is to include some relatively valuable items, especially ones which I have no particular attachment to. For instance, the last batch included a Lenox flower vase and serving tray. I don’t really know how valuable these things are or were, but the point for me is to make the act one of generosity, not just purging. Goodwill is a good solution for finding new homes for those items which I have no lingering attachment but which are likely to have some value to others — in other words, for those items for which I don’t find a need for a whole lot of thoughtfulness. For instance, there was this pitcher from Spain which we may have bought during our trip there, but I don’t remember the back story anymore, and there’s no one else who knows or cares now either. So better to let such things go IMO.
It may also make a difference that I’ve now gotten rid of over 2,000 items using this thoughtful process. It’s been a great experience, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m getting tired of being this thoughtful about the process — and even about the notion of counting itself. More about that in my next post…