2021: The Year of Decluttering

That title up there? I like to call it “Double-click Bait”

Because you might have opened this post to figure out how I could possibly get the year so wrong,
or because you thought, “Ooooo, more hints on how to declutter!” Or both.

Decluttering, as everyone knows who watches TV, reads books, or keeps up with social media, is the new national religion.
It’s the current mania.
Our version of 1999’s biggest trend—stocking up on survival skills for when Y2K crashed the world.
It’s replaced determining our love language, and developing habits to be a Highly Effective Person.
It even nudged out learning to dance the Macarena.

Any time there’s a trend everyone is doing, and everyone is telling me I want to do it, my contrary nature and stubborn Dutchness exert themselves.
I dig in my heels and refuse.

So far I’ve bucked the infatuation with decluttering. But it’s so widespread that no matter how fast I scroll past ads and accolades for it, I at least know we are supposed to ask ourselves this:
Does my stuff bring me joy?

This is my answer.
You betcha.

For the sentimentalist, (of whom I am chief) every three-dimensional object has an invisible hook. Attached to the hook is the memory of a person, place or event. Ditch the item and the memory disappears with it.

But, here comes The Big But.
My son and highly organized, uncluttered daughter-in-law invited me to see their newly remodeled basement playroom. Along one wall, an army of plastic bins sat on rows of shelves and on each bin a label was plastered and on each label was written, in my daughter-in-law’s neat penmanship, the contents. It all looked neat. And clean, and spacious, and pleasant.

A strange desire kindled in my heart. A desire for less stuff and more space.
Before the tiny flame could die, I flew home to begin my journey to unclutter.

Where to begin? Start small, Anita.

With this Avon tin.

2020-01-15 08.11.08
This over-half-a-century old container that used to be filled with “Lady Skater” talc.
It has that invisible hook on the side.
Attached there is the memory of my little brother and sister, who’d saved their pennies and bought it for me as a Christmas gift.
THAT memory is linked via a long chain to the one wrapped around my entire childhood—we were only a few pebbles removed from dirt poor. My dad felt called to teach in small, struggling Christian schools. Mom worked every possible job to keep us from bankruptcy and there weren’t a whole lot of toys, trinkets, floo-floobers or tar-tinkers.


The two littles in our family

So when a gift from the two littles in our family showed up under the tree one Christmas, I was charmed and delighted and smelled like Sweet Honesty powder for a solid year.
About a decade ago I showed the tin to my sister, thinking she—also a sentimentalist—would be impressed I’d kept it. But she had no memory of giving it to me. Therefore she saw no hook, and was aghast I still had it.

Filled with zeal and a desire to be trendy, I hauled the tin out of the ‘miscellaneous” Christmas bin. That’s where I keep all the decorations I don’t set out but can’t throw away. They either have memories hooked to them, or show great potential for the hypothetical craft project of my dreams.
I held the tin before me and set my face like flint toward the garbage, trying to disentangle the joyful memory from the hook as I walked.

You know where this story is going, don’t you?

Whether by accident or subconscious intention, I took the path leading past my Dickens-style Christmas decorations.
Newton’s first law kicked in and the body in motion (me) was compelled to change her action (dumping a precious-memory holder) by an external force (the gladsome comprehension that Avon’s little Currier and Ives tin would look perfect tucked into a corner by the cricket on the hearth and the Christmas Carol carolers.)


See my Dickens shelf? Carolers, the Cricket on the Hearth and the Goose getting fat? The shelf below has a Norman Rockwell Dicken’s print next to Samantha, who is only slightly anachronistic in the display.

The tin has moved from “miscellaneous” to the “Dickens” bin, waiting—Lord willing—to join Christmas festivities 2020. Come 2021 we’ll revisit the Avon Lady Skater and see if she still makes me happy.

An epic failure to be one of the cool, decluttered in-crowd. But I comfort myself with this:
By keeping those memories hooked on tangible objects, my brain stays more organized and less cluttered. What could possibly bring more joy?

14 thoughts on “2021: The Year of Decluttering

  1. I’m a natural declutterer. Not radical mind you, but if there’s chaos in my brain when I see too much stuff in corners and on tables and such. My daughter, on the other hand, has an emotional attachment to everything that’s ever passed through her hands. I made her watch all of Hoarders with me to see where that leads. But….

    Your words here give me pause. “By keeping those memories hooked on tangible objects, my brain stays more organized and less cluttered.”. This rang my bell…can it be? Do my daughter’s pack rat tendencies actually allow her to function better?

    I had honestly never thought of that! You may have just ended a small war in my home, dear friend! Thank you! 😊❤️

  2. I can relate to everything you said, Anita. Well done! I, too, have multiple hooks that attach my objects to memories. And they have been a noose around my neck.

    So I thought I should get on board with the trend. When I mentioned this to my daughter a few years ago, she got me Marie Kondo’s book. Was she trying to tell me something?

    But the caveat to de-cluttering is, “Does it spark joy?” Well, that doesn’t lead to much dejunking. I had to find a new guideline. This is based on the premise that if something happens to me, my husband or kids will have to go through all my stuff. I want them to still think of me fondly me after that.

    So as I evaluate each object, I ask myself, “Is this embarrassing?”
    “Will my kids be thoroughly frustrated and annoyed going through this box?”

    With those mantras, I’ve successfully gotten rid of a boatload of stuff the past few years, and carefully labeled the boxes I’ve kept. But it’s a journey . . .

    • It is a journey—and I may find myself thinking differently in a few years! Right now my guideline is: Do my memories interfere with our current quality of life? I like a tidy house, I like to be able to find stuff (I’m not COMPLETELY unorganized) and I want to have space. So my memories have to fit in closets and storage areas with room for the stuff we need to live right now. I may adopt your “is this embarrassing” though. Where’s that diary with my yearnings for the cute guy in 6th grade…?

  3. My place can get messy and I will tidy it up. Sometimes that means items go into the rubbish, to be recycled or to go to an op-shop so that others may enjoy it. My house is still full of things I love but it is tidier when visitors come. I get rid of clothing too large or that I only wear once a year. I read a book from my many bookcases and decide is it a keeper or can it go, then do so. I have shifted a number of times and have removed a lot from my life because of that but I want what I want now and it will stay.

  4. This post is so insightful! I grew up a navy kid, moving every 6 mos-1 year and never were able to attach to ‘things’. As an adult, I tend to detach as well and I value clean, clear spaces to any clutter. But my MIL has loads of precious sentimental items in every surface of her home. She even saves rocks from places she’s been! I really struggle understanding sometimes but this post helps! I love that little tin of yours. I was relieved that you didn’t throw it away! My husband has so many memories attached to the special things his mom had in his home growing up and when she gave him a few of them recently he was so touched. I, on the other hand, don’t have a single item I’ve kept from my childhood and my dad has nothing to give me either. So I know there’s some value in it and if you can pass that tin with the story on to someone someday that will be really special!

    • My mom was like you. We moved a lot when I was young too—although not as often as you!. (My dad was a Christian school teacher who wanted to teach his way across the US.) She wasn’t sentimental to begin with and moving every couple of years got rid of every trace.
      I have one doll from my childhood. My sons each have dozens of toys I saved for them, along with baby clothes, blankets, cards…sigh. Maybe it is time to get rid of a few things.

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