What's Stuck In Your Attic?
I prefer to start the year fresh. A clean house. Closets tidy. Rooms orderly. Mail and magazines sorted and tossed as needed. It is such an important part of my mental state as a new year begins. I also know that post-holiday, the house will temporarily be the scene of much chaos and clutter (my sister calls that “festivities”) and that will be enough to figure out for days to come.
So, imagine my surprise (more like total distress) when I realized that to start 2021, I was going to have a garage full of stuff. You see, we finally, after six long years, decided to go ahead and sell our home back in Virginia. My little yellow house with the picket fence that I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving I had now agreed to sell. It was time. After several rounds of renters, various repairs and upgrades, and years of worrying whether the basement would survive the next unexpected errant hurricane, we said goodbye.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. We lived in that home for 10 years. I remember declaring it mine when I first saw it, despite the old blue kitchen and “vintage” bathrooms. I remember painting and decorating and weeding and raking. And coming home every day so happy to call that little place my home. And when we finally renovated the spaces and made it precisely to our liking, we picked up and moved to California for a new opportunity. I will always miss that house.
And with selling the house came a storage unit, shipped from the East Coast, that included quite a bit of things that we had intentionally left behind in the attic. Things I clearly haven’t needed for six years, but things I really couldn’t bear to just throw away, since I was sure they included irreplaceable memorabilia from our lives, not to mention baseball cards my husband has lugged around from place to place for his entire life. And just a few tubs of holiday decorations, too. I am the guilty lugger here.
I imagine my attic is no different than many others - full of the miscellany of life that no doubt requires a bit of unsightly storage space. Furniture, or pieces of. The kids’ favorite books or stuffies from when they were toddlers. We hold on hoping they will enjoy seeing it when they are all grown up. The random attachment for the dryer, the high school yearbooks, and of course, the unseemingly volume of tangled holiday lights, ribbon and tinsel.
I consider myself a pretty organized person. And while I am sentimental, I find more enjoyment keeping things if I know they can be contained neatly. I have to admit that I am a wee bit surprised at what I have been finding in my attic stash that now litters my once relatively tidy garage. An old chandelier. Several boxes full of letters and cards I received in college. My old high school senior year t-shirt. I’m not even sure it is clean by the looks of it. And just a lot of debris from living. There are precious few items that I have seen that have me absolutely delighted to have back in my possession. It is not so much the stuff that is bothering me now as it is the amount of stress and angst and money required to get that stuff from one coast to another. What exactly was I holding on to? And what difference did it make if I had it or not?
This attic experience has been a real lesson for me. Holding onto things that I clearly don’t need and haven’t wanted around for years might have been holding me back. My default messaging to myself when I was just too exhausted with having relocated to California, when I was missing home and family and friends so dearly, was to just remind myself that I still have things in the attic. It’s ok - I have things back home. It’s ok - when we go back home I’ll feel better because I’ll have all of those wonderful belongings. It’s ok - my attic and all of the precious memories it holds is waiting for me. Things in the attic were my “leave behind”, ensuring that California was temporary and I would have to return eventually to be reunited with those dear attic possessions.
The attic full of memories allowed me to keep one foot out of the door here. It gave me permission to never fully settle in, as I literally waited until the day my husband would walk through the door and declare that he hated his work and was ready to just go back home. The attic that lived in my mind was an anchor to home, allowing me to basically ignore the home and the attic that I was filling up right here. I am learning that no amount of collecting or sorting or saving replaces the living that happens. No matter how much I tried to hold dear to life somewhere else, I was living and building a life here. New memories. New photos to store. New holiday decorations to hang on the tree, each with their own attachment to my life. Now that I have allowed myself to let go of things and purge much of what was left in that attic, I can focus my attention elsewhere. With the house and the attic gone, there is nothing holding me back from keeping my focus where it should be, which is right here.
It has only been a week of sorting and purging. I do not have a place to store everything here so reducing the volume once and for all is an order. I am learning to smile as I look through things, reminding myself that by letting stuff go, I am making room for more. There is no shortage of what my life will hold in the years to come. There will be so many more memories. More books. More living.
And who doesn’t want more? More great memories, not more holiday decorations. Let’s not get carried away.