Friday, May 25, 2007

Dealing with a Lifetime of Stuff

Retirement tends to bring out an un-nesting instinct, where you start to look critically at all the stuff you’ve amassed over the course of your lifetime. It’s definitely a time to tear apart and unburden.

Until this point in my life, since we have lived in the same house for 30 years, my inclination has been to collect things – books, cookbooks, dishes, records, clothes, souvenirs, and paper – lots of paper. I think of this as a form of nesting. We pulled together all those things that would help us raise two children, 5 dogs, and countless other assorted pets.

We have quite a lot of storage space in our house, so it was only too easy to tuck something in a closet or put it on a shelf, never to be revisited for years and years. Our pantry is like an archaeological tel, containing such gems as a set of snail shells for escargot; a crank machine that cores, peels, and slices an apple all at one time; a set of plates intended for artichokes; and a clay cooker or two. The window seats in our family room contain a myriad of assorted board games and box after box of 33-1/3 records, replete with the original scratches.

In my old days, I would have tackled this obvious housecleaning project head on, stopping only to eat and sleep until it was done. But retirement has suggested that there is plenty of time for un-nesting. So instead I am biting off several small projects each week. This week resulted in cleaning out 2 bathrooms, the laundry room, and the drawer in the kitchen where we throw all food that doesn’t have a home elsewhere, like cookies and chocolate and nuts and chips. These are just the tip of a very large iceberg, but they represent a start.

My friend Kris has a 3-month lead on me since she retired in February. She has now been through her entire attic, basement, and storage shed. Last weekend she held a yard sale and made $200 on the things she was ready to part with. She sold a whole box of kids’ games for $5 to a grandfather who wanted something to entertain his grandchildren.

The funniest story she told was that of getting rid of stuffed animals. Anyone who has raised a daughter (or in her case 3) has boxes of furry friends. She cleaned them all up and seated them in groups on the living room furniture. Then she took pictures and sent them to her children asking which ones they just couldn’t part with. They responded sensibly, so now she is down to under a dozen animals and the younger set in the neighborhood are enjoying the rest.

That’s what it seems to all be about – simplifying and casting off what is no longer needed. I will have Kris as my advisor as I tackle 30 years of a very full nest. I’m sure un-nesting will prompt countless memories of long, long ago. But I hope I can use her example to find new homes for some oldies but goodies and to recognize garbage when I see it.


Blogger Kristin said...

A set of plates intended for artichokes?! My mom keeps saying I need more storage space; I keep saying that I need less stuff. Maybe I'll take a bit of inspiration and minimize my own life.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- You've had the advantage of moving a few times. That tends to minimize what you keep. Sometimes it's nice to have limited space because it doesn't allow you to stash so much away.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Hmm...retirement did not seem to bring out this "un-nesting" instinct in moi. Maybe it's because I'm only semi-retired or maybe it's a male-female thing?

10:38 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

David -- Here's hoping my cleanup activities will be contagious because it seems to me like you're on the high end of the stuff quota to me. :)

10:46 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

I git rid of years' worth of stuff when I moved west last fall. It was a great feeling to remove so much clutter. Most of the things had no meaning. I dropped them off at Goodwill and never looked back.

2:41 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Matt -- I will undoubtedly do the same. I have never regretted giving anything a new home.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Cleaning up and tossing out is a great activity I engage in all the time. What I can't figure out is how I manage to continue amassing stuff. I don't shop, where does it all come from??

Happy cleansing!

9:13 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Well, I've never been nested so no kids' stuff but I more than make up for it! That big attic I've talked about doesn't help! I've just spread out to fill the space I've had...just like fish will grow bigger if they have a larger aquarium!

12:31 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya, MOI -- My theory is that we fill whatever space we have not necessarily with purchases, but with things. Periodic purging makes room to fill it again.

2:24 PM  

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