On being … about time

By Ingrid Sapona
I periodically cull through things. I don’t really like doing it, but I generally feel good when I’m done. What I find most frustrating about it is that even when I know I’ve gotten rid of lots of stuff, someone walking in afterward might not notice much of a difference.

This time around was a more thorough de-clutter than usual. I went through the freezer (yup – got rid of that year-old chopped red pepper and a freezer-burned hamburger bun, among other things), a “junk drawer” that had old maps and an unusual assortment of telephone cords (I find it hard to believe I ever owned that many phones), a drawer that was full of VHS tapes, my wardrobe accessories drawer, and my office.

De-clutter gurus all have rules of thumb they suggest applying. For example, when it comes to clothing, a common one seems to be that you should get rid of things more than two years old (or maybe it’s two seasons – I’m not sure). Personally, I’ve never found such suggestions helpful – if I’ve hung on to something for any length of time, it’s because I’ve got some sentimental attachment to it. And, when that’s the case, no arbitrary rule really matters.

Of course, some things are easier to get rid of than other things. Getting rid of the phone cords was a no-brainer. Old maps – well, they carry memories of past trips. This time I let myself linger over the memories for a few minutes and then put the maps into the recycle pile. VHS tapes – another easy call, since I don’t even have a tape player any more.

There were two categories of things I had trepidation about even going through: jewelry and the books. These were things I’ve given myself a pass on culling through for a LONG time. And, given my history of hanging on to these items, I knew I was going to have to come up with some pretty good self-rationalization for parting with them.

Since the jewelry was in my accessories drawer, which was on my must tackle list, it came before the books. I wouldn’t characterize the jewelry as “costume” (which I tend to think of as big and glitzy). It was the kind of thing you wear to work. Some of it was mass produced, but most of it was handmade stuff from craft shows. The idea of the pieces being sold for 50¢/each at the local charity thrift shop just didn’t feel right.

As I was looking through the jewelry, the perfect place to donate it came to mind: Dress for Success. It’s a charity that provides “gently used” suits and professional clothing for disadvantaged people who need them for job hunting. A quick check of their website confirmed that they take jewelry. Perfect! As soon as I realized the jewelry would be put to good use, sorting through it and carefully pairing all the earrings was actually fun. After dropping the jewelry off, I was energized and so I started contemplating the bookshelf.

Over the years I’ve gotten rid of many books, but I still had three full shelves – in fact, a couple of them have books hidden behind books. Of the remaining volumes, the most troublesome tomes, fell into two categories: philosophy and classics from university; and cookbooks.

There were a number of reasons I still had these particular books from university. It was no accident that the ones I kept were attractively bound and impressive – a reminder of a rich, rigorous liberal arts education. But who am I trying to impress, I finally asked myself. Good point, but, on its own, not a compelling enough reason to get rid of them – after all, I reminded myself, these are important reference sources. (You never know when you’ll need to cite Plato’s discussion of shadows, right?) So what if I haven’t opened any of them in over 30 years – reference books are like that – until you need them, they just sit there.

Then, just as I muttered that last sentence, the big Ah-ha hit me. I do a fair bit of research for work, but these days it’s all on-line. “Looking things up” no longer involves opening up a book – it involves the Internet. In fact, that rationale applied to the cookbooks too. If there’s something I want to make and I don’t have a recipe for it, I’m way more likely to look on-line than I am to leaf through the cookbooks on my shelf. (The cookbooks in the kitchen are a whole other story – those I do look through for inspiration.) 

As I was driving over to the thrift shop with the four bags of books, I was thinking about my decision to finally get rid of them. I chuckled at the idea that I had held them prisoner for so long. Indeed, I felt by donating them, I was sort of doing them a service – now they can be read, enjoyed, and perhaps kept as a reference by someone else.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


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