Don't Let It Go
My grandmother’s picture is next to the word FRUGAL in a dictionary somewhere. She grew up during the Depression and like so many others in her generation, she knew how to make her dollar - and her things - go the distance. She lived with us while I was growing up so I was witness to her frugal deeds. Though we didn’t need to shop at the thrift store, Grandma Rachel enjoyed finding a bargain. It made her feel good to save my mother’s hard-earned money. She could make thrift store shopping a real adventure, never allowing us to buy things we didn’t need because we needed to allow others to have an opportunity to enjoy it. She gave us a $1 budget and I remember being thrilled to come home with a few used puzzles or books.
She never wasted food. She never threw out clothing because of a lost button or pesky little hole. I enjoyed hand-me-downs from my older sister. She absolutely wrapped rubber bands and gently used tin foil into balls for use later, and there was never a time when a shampoo or sauce bottle wasn’t turned on its head in hopes of getting the last drop. Without a lecture we learned to have a sense of respect for our things that meant caring for them, using them wisely and well, and refusing to let them go until it was absolutely necessary, which usually meant not at all.
We are currently going through the process of packing up our things. We are a family on the move, preparing for a long-awaited relocation back to the East Coast. I can’t help but feel myself channeling my frugal grandmother as I make decisions about the fate of each item in the house. And, don’t get me wrong, I do find it hard to evaluate every item before placing it in a box but I think it is such a necessary part of starting a new chapter.
I will happily admit that even I, the self-proclaimed clutter-free guru of the West, have a very hard time throwing things away, even things that deserve a solid home in the trash can. The thoughts that run through my head are all about how it could still be useful, how this item still has life left, or could be fixed. I think about all that other people don’t have and my throwing something away feels ungrateful and disrespectful to the hands that worked to make it and bring it to my door. I think about how much it cost to purchase it and whether I have used it long enough to get a solid return on my investment. I think about the landfills and the environmental impacts. And I get stuck.
Have I mentioned that packing is taking a really long time?
As someone who works hard to keep the house free of clutter and tidy, I am surprised when I open drawers and things spill out that I wasn’t expecting. I spend a small amount of time berating myself for having not attended to this “mess” earlier. How could I let this mess - - fester? What have I been doing with all of my time?Junk drawers are unacceptable....
Have I mentioned that I’m great at distracting myself?
And then the kids’ things are even more problematic. They hold on to so much junk, don’t they? Between clothing that doesn’t fit and toys that are long forgotten, I have spent countless hours in their room attempting to separate the keeps from the donates from the pure trash. And I struggle there, too. I understand the sentimental value of books we read so much they are memorized. I simply can’t watch a loved stuffie or doll go into a donate or trash bin - it makes me sad for them (the stuffie, that is. I know my kids probably couldn’t care less).
I don’t want to disappoint my grandmother and waste anything. I don’t want to disrespect items that I purchased that still have a whole lot of life. I don’t want to just toss things away that we might find we need for later, or that we might still find comfort in.
What am I supposed to do?
Stop. Breathe. We just can’t. We can’t keep everything. We can’t make sure that every single thing in our possession is used 100% of the time. We can’t never let things go. And packing up the entire house is a not-so-gentle reminder of that. I think of it as a reset.
Maybe what I’m learning is that I can show my things respect by letting them go. I can respect them by offering them a second chance at life. I don’t need to be frugal like my grandmother to still be grateful for what I have. And spending time attempting to decide if donated items are going to be ok outside of my home is just not my responsibility.
It IS my responsibility to live my best life and find a balance when it comes to the items in my care. I can choose what I buy. I can choose what to keep. I can choose to use them, wear them out, repair them, pitch them. I really can choose to keep them around forever, but then that behavior will limit my other choices. I can have as much, or as little, as I want. Period.
So I sit here sorting. Fighting back my own impulses to save it all. Resisting the urges to throw it all away. Reminding myself that life is abundant and there will be more lovely things in my life as we move forward no matter what I decide. But I’m absolutely not getting rid of those 12 puzzles. Or that board game. Or my ratty old green slippers. And you can’t make me.