I Feel Bad About My Stuff: Getting Rid of Emotional Clutter

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Find the Happy Medium

In despair, I took it off the market. The one bright spot, I figured, was that we'd get back all the precious possessions we'd stashed. But when I opened the first of the dozens of boxes stuffed with everything we supposedly held dear, my heart sank. Did I really want to put all this junk back where it "belonged"? To be honest, I hadn't missed any of it. Neither had the kids. The thought of a mantelpiece crowded with candles, picture frames, and odd Lego spaceships made me shudder a little. But I couldn't live in a sterile showplace forever. How could I find the happy medium between chaos and coziness?

The answer, I decided, was to choose carefully from the items I'd stored -- putting back only what I loved most and letting go of (or stashing away) the rest. It wasn't "decluttering," since I'd done that already. And it certainly wasn't "redecorating," since I planned to put my same old things back into my same old house. It was, instead, "curating" -- selecting, with an eye toward quality and personal significance, which of my family's possessions I wanted to have around.

I didn't want to declutter, exactly, I realized. I wanted to curate my stuff, selecting and displaying the things I loved most, while packing or throwing the rest away.

Still, it seemed wasteful, even sinful, to ditch things that weren't broken or ugly or even out of style. It made me so nervous that I sought some professional help. "Doesn't having fewer, more cherished belongings sound better than living with tons of extra stuff?" asked Xorin Balbes, author of SoulSpace: Transform Your Home, Transform Your Life. Balbes promised that I'd learn something about what I valued most as I winnowed my possessions. "Choosing what you want to live with will give you a clear sense of who you are now, as opposed to who you were five or 10 years ago," he said.

This sounded good -- I was at a point in my life where I could stand a little redefinition. I'd lived with my husband for 18 years. Now that I was middle-aged and divorced, I wanted the house to reflect my tastes. The first box I opened turned out to be filled with photos, most including my ex. I paused. I didn't want to obliterate the past -- it was important for our kids to see evidence of the long, mostly happy relationship that had brought them into existence. I stared at the box, trying to figure out which pictures I wanted in our lives again.

Finally, I came up with a solution: I got rid of the wedding photos, but kept two lovely shots of the whole family. I divided the pictures of the kids with their dad alone -- half for me, half for him -- and packed his up, along with others I knew he'd like: His grandmother holding our infant older son, his mom with the kids one Easter, our sweet old dog when she was a puppy, and so forth. It wasn't easy. I loved all these pictures. But after putting back some of our old photos and seeing that I had plenty of space left over, I realized it had been several years since I'd framed anything to add to the collection. Our photo gallery was, quite simply, out of date.

Continued on page 3:  Start Curating


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