How getting rid of stuff can unearth long forgotten secrets.
By Brad Beckstrom
Spring has arrived in the DC area. Generally that means a few days of pleasant weather until we jump right into the hot and humid 80s and 90s. In fact, yesterday, May 19th, it hit 90°. I mention this because I planned to do some spring cleaning. Same thing on May 17th, it hit 90°. I thought “why the hell do they call it spring cleaning?” I should be doing this stuff in February. Here it is May and 40 minutes into it and I’m sweating like a……….
Google’s top recommendation is pig. Yes, sweating like a pig. I’m going to need to spread this “spring cleaning” out a bit, technically I have till June 20 to finish. I’m going to need to take it a bit slower. Around this house the war on stuff never ends.
I’m going to start in the basement where it’s cooler. I could spend a week down there and only make a small dent. Some things are difficult to go through and get rid of. For example, we have neatly labeled cardboard boxes for several deceased relatives, some recently, some many years ago. Going through this stuff makes me feel like a bit of an archaeologist. Looking at certificates, old photos and cards you get a sense of what was important to that person. In the end it all fits in that one box. Some of these folks, like my dad, once had large businesses, homes, sports cars, boats, collections of all kinds, but in the end, we have one box.
Your Personal Archeology
Cleaning out old stuff, giving it away, is a great way to conduct a personal archaeology. What things are really hard to get rid of and why? As you get rid of the old stuff, are you seeing any patterns, old forgotten interests, hobbies, passions? Is there anything that would end up in that very last box? Or something that you would grab if your house was on fire?
Recently I came across 3 old books and some magazines on photography, a bit out of date, published in the 70s but they were still here despite all the moves over the years and previous spring cleanings. Unless you’re a packrat, which I’m not, there’s probably a pretty good reason for that.
Pay attention to the really easy stuff to get rid of as well. A few years ago I got pissed about having to get rid of any of my trousers with a 34” waist so I decided to do something about that. Is it really easy to get rid of work stuff, something you may have been doing for the past 30 years? Definitely get rid of it, but think about why it’s so easy.
House on fire
One of the items that most people hang onto, or grab if the house was on fire, are photo albums and boxes of old pictures. In fact, those very last boxes I mentioned are largely full of photos, certificates and cards. Why? I believe, in the end, it’s the memories and experiences that people want to keep, not stuff.
Those photos, those memories can tell you something as well. They’re part of your personal archaeology. Take some time go through them think about those experiences and maybe some you’d like to have or create again. Try consolidating them, maybe fitting all the good ones in one box, something that would be a treasure to find some day. If you’ve got some empty wall space, put a bunch of the really old photos up on a corkboard, people will definitely ask you about them. Think of it as free, one of a kind artwork.
Is there something in a box that has been there for years that you just don’t want to get rid of, possibly some memories attached to it? Take a photo of it and give it away. I’m sure the person who owned it would much rather it be put to good use by someone who might need it.
Now get started, win that war on stuff. Sweating like a pig is good for you.