Those boxes you haven’t unpacked from your last move. Everything in the storage unit. The Rubbermaids at the back of the closet. Even the file cabinet. All of them hold the dreaded “stuff” that has to be considered for packing and transporting when you move or decide to simplify.
Moving is an exhausting undertaking. Right now, I’m pretty certain I am physically and mentally unable to do it again. Ever. It’s brutal. Not just physically, but the decisions of what gets packed and what gets given away, donated, sold, or thrown out.
Friends (and strangers) who know you are moving will give you advice. “If you haven’t opened it in a year, throw it out without opening the box.” Bad idea; doing that would have meant pitching out my passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, and voter registration card.
“If it doesn’t bring you joy, don’t take it.” Sorrow can’t be jettisoned. Pain changes your life, but not always in bad ways. My divorce decree, photos of my mom, a letter from a friend before she developed Alzheimer’s, all bring back sad, hard times in my life, but those tough times also polished grit off my soul and let me choose to stand up for myself or acknowledge my own mistakes. Slowly, I became a different person, one that could care about others. Don’t want to throw that out, either.
“If you aren’t proud of it, dump it,” didn’t work, either. I found journals that were sloppy, messy, ugly, and a journal of poetry I wrote that made me cringe to read it. On the other hand, looking at them showed me how far I had come over the years, what I know now that I didn’t know then, and proved to me (once more) that practice is the only way to improve art, writing, and your character.
So, what should you take or keep? Items that craft your identity–that includes old passports, licenses, graduation certificates, photographs of a different you. That’s the physical you. Also included in this list is the identity of the creative you–items and choices that shows a shift between then and now. Work in which you see growth in the direction you wanted. Work that tells the story of that growth, particularly if it was not easy growth to come by.
What should you jettison, leave, shred, burn, give away, sell, or shed?
- Clothing that doesn’t make you feel good when you wear it, even if it fits.
- Paperwork that you don’t need for taxes or legally. I’ve been dragging 15-year old cancelled checks around because someone told me I needed to keep them “just in case.” Nope.
- Shoes that were on sale and that you can wear them for less than an hour before your feet hurt
- Anything you bought and regret and are keeping because it was expensive
- Items you can’t remember buying and wonder how they got into your house
- Your re-gifting pile that has been moved twice already and it looking a bit shop worn
- Anything that makes you feel shame, guilt, or pain that has no other legal purpose in your life.
- Items you have outgrown physically, mentally or spiritually and that are holding you back.
- Items that no longer fit your identity and don’t inspire growth
- Items someone else could do more with than you
- Decorative items that someone you love gave you, but you would never display.
- Books you bought to improve yourself but never started. Improve yourself some other way.
- Books you feel guilty for never finishing
- Duplicates (or multiples) of photos. Keeping two old, identical photos is fine. Keeping 10 is overdoing it. So is keeping all those photos of people no one in your family can identify.
What to do with the items? If they are clean, in working condition, and usable, donate them or freecycle them. If you have time and energy, have a garage sale (also known as a yard, tag, or boot sale). You may have to do some research, but find a school or shelter for gently used art supplies. If you wouldn’t want your child or parent to use them, they are trash-worthy.
Honor your way of disposal. I prefer to shed before I move to save packing time and containers. Others like to move it all, and shed what they can’t find room for. Whatever works, works.
Another healthy tip: before you buy it, know how often you will use it, where it will be when in use and where it will wind up when you are not using it and move on to another fad. Fads are fine. But if you live where summer is six weeks of mild weather, a picnic set that seats 12 complete with a huge umbrella and matching cushions that should not get wet may not be a good buy, even on sale.
—Quinn McDonald has recently moved. She’s glad she shed a lot of items that didn’t support her identity. They were holding her back from moving ahead.