Friday, September 17, 2010

Cleaning Out the Closet

Among the things I've been doing around the house is cleaning out cupboards, closets, and storage rooms. For one, I'm trying to cut down the amount of stuff I am going to have to move. The need to do this is increasingly evident when I think about how much stuff has been moved from place to place without being looked at, enjoyed, or used at all. Another reason I have to do this is that a house will sell so much more quickly if it is not cluttered. I actually have great storage in the house and plenty of room, but it sure looks small and insufficient with things spilling out of closets and jammed into tight spaces. Finally, of course, I have to go through things to get closure.

This process, of course, requires some difficult decisions to be made. I've done a good job of not attaching a false sentimentality to things -- just because a small appliance was a wedding gift does not mean it has a special value. Just because someone gave this to us for our wedding does not mean I have to keep it, make room for it in my kitchen cupboard, and continue to move it as I relocate throughout my life.Of course, some wedding gifts will, but not every one (even though I have an uncanny memory of who gave us which gifts). If something has little to no sentimental value and I am not going to use then, then I am not going to keep it. Those are the no-brainers.

Things with purely sentimental value, but no useful purpose in my life, I struggle with. Gifts that were given thoughtfully but that just aren't my taste, cards, photographs that aren't good enough to frame and display, but seem weird to just discard....there is so much of that in my life! I even found a pair of pegs -- one pink and one blue -- from a game of Life I played with my friend Troy in high school in which I declared that the pink and blue pegs were me and Brian, and I became a lawyer and won the game by retiring on Millionaire's Estate. Yes, I saved those pegs. Yes, I know that is not normal. But now I have them and I feel guilty getting rid of them.

I didn't think I would have so many emotions about getting rid of things that haven't seen the light of day in years. Yet, here I am, blogging my agony about discarding two tiny pieces of plastic from a board game I played thirteen years ago. I know they take up no space, so that isn't the issue. It's just that I don't need to hold on to everything like that. I'd rather have space and freedom than things. I don't need those pegs to remind me of the excitement and hope I had for our future as that 16-year-old girl who dreamed of walking down the aisle and living happily ever after with her doting high school sweetheart.

Keeping this in mind, I forge ahead. I know I have the option of putting things in storage, including keeping them at my parents' or in-laws' house, to go through later or to keep for the future, but the fact is that I have to make those decisions at some point, and this is the best time to do so. I don't feel rushed, I'm not trying to cram these decisions into a weekend (as I probably would in the future when I'm back to full-time work), and I have help as I'm going along. Certainly, grieving people should not rush this process. However, it has to be done at some point. It isn't practical to keep hauling and storing a roomful of totes of assorted things that apparently I don't actually use for the rest of my life, and I don't want to do that.

I have to admit, though, I'm not as clear-eyed and pragmatic when faced with an item before my eyes, as my quandry about the game pieces demonstrates. Most of the things I own are things Brian and I acquired together -- things that we bought or received with the purpose of building our life and enjoying our home together. I had a little breakdown when I realized it made sense to get rid of my -- our -- Christmas tree. It was the first tree we bought together and I remember being so excited to get it and put it up together. We used the same red and gold decorations -- bought at Dollar General in Urbandale while I was still in law school -- every year. I love that tree. Thinking about my life NOW though, and not what it was, the tree has no place. It is large, heavy, and difficult to move. I don't know if I'll have enough room for a tree like that in Austin. It just doesn't make sense to move it 1,000 miles away if I don't even know if it will work for me. The good news is that Brian's brother said he would take the tree, which makes me very happy. He went through a divorce this year and they are dealing with making one household's worth of things work for two households, so that is a win-win. It just lessened the sting a bit of getting rid of it.

It was while pondering the fate of the tree that it hit me: Letting go of things means acknowledging that the life I had with Brian, the life I used to know, is over. That's why it's hard. It's not that the Christmas tree itself is any better than any other pre-lit artificial option, or that I really love playing football video games on the XBox. It's the fact that I loved the life we had together in this house and with those things -- I loved decorating the tree with him in anticipation of another holiday season together, I loved ribbing Brian about how much time and effort he put into his EA Sports football games, despite being over the age of 30 (a habit I found secretly endearing because it was a part of who he was and I loved him fully).

In short, my journey has now taken me to the point that my inner thought process is equivalent to watching an episode of Clean House or Hoarders. Like I've tried to do with all of my grieving work, I'm trying to get on top of this and address it before it becomes a persistent, unaddressed, buried-only-to-resurface-again-later-and-worse, problem in my life. I'm trying to focus on keeping my memories alive in my mind and in photographs more than in things. That being said, I am going to allow myself to keep a few silly, useless "things" that remind me of the best times of my life. Even if they only sit in a tote in the basement. A small tote, though. I want enough to look back on, not enough to overwhelm me.

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