The stuff nobody wants

Over the winter, my partner and I embarked on what we intended to be a massive downsizing exercise. It seemed like a good idea at the time. For one thing, we had begun talking about moving to a smaller space, and we simply had too much stuff to take all of it with us. Aside from this motivation, at times our house just felt too full.

Some of our bookcases were double-lined with books and we hadn’t so much as glanced at the hidden books for years. Others had books stacked on top of and beside them. Surfaces were crowded with objects we had brought back from various trips over the years. We had art, but no wall space to hang it. We had kids’ toys that our youngest grandsons had long since outgrown. Our closets were bursting with clothes. Kitchen drawers and cupboards overflowed with utensils that we seldom used. The basement, despite regular tidy-up sessions, just kept filling up with things we put down there because we didn’t know what else to do with them. The workshop – well, the less said about that the better.

The curse of privilege

Like many privileged North Americans, we have filled and over-filled our living space because we can afford to do so.

And, also like many in our demographic, especially after two years of spending more time at home than ever before, we had come to realize that – move or no move – we needed to get rid of some of what we had accumulated so we could better enjoy what we decided to keep.

As Patricia Marx wrote in The New Yorker earlier this year:

“Lately, I, a maximalist, have been yearning to be a minimalist. I am not alone. ‘People are stuck in their homes and sick of their stuff,’ [says] Randy Sabin, who runs estate and Internet sales. “It’s staring them in the face. They have to dust it.”

We started out strong; making lists and moving through them with some enthusiasm. We made piles: keep, sell, donate, give to our kids, garbage. Quickly, the garbage pile became huge, second in size only to the keep pile, because, much to our surprise and disappointment, no one wanted our stuff.

Sure, we had a few successes. Kingston’s Autonomous Social Centre was happy to take several boxes of materials from our decades of political activism. When we put books at the end of the driveway with a large “FREE” sign, we had only one taker: a woman who took six books and wrote us a lovely note telling us which she had taken and why.

My daughter’s partner, who loves to wheel and deal, sold a few pieces of furniture on Facebook marketplace.

But that was about it. We took six boxes of our best books to a local used bookstore and came away with sore backs and a total of just $150. Soon after, we donated all the remaining books we didn’t want (and, as I have since discovered, the odd one that we did), just to be rid of them.

Turns out our obviously unsentimental kids don’t want any of our cast-offs. They don’t even want their own childhood treasures that we have lugged from house to house over the years.

As for the keep pile: our decisions were more often based on sentiment than practicality. Neither of us could bear to part with any of our many stone collections from our walks along seasides and lakeshores across Canada and elsewhere. I’m not ready to bid adieu to the school of glass fish that keep me company in my home office.  Neither of us wants to relinquish art and knickknacks created by our children and grandchildren. And on it goes.

I think Marie Kondo, professional tidier and organizer, would approve. Her philosophy is:

“Keep only those items that speak to the heart and discard items that no long spark joy.”

Fizzling up

After our initial flurry of downsizing, our efforts largely fizzled out. We moved from feeling enthusiastic to overwhelmed. Now, we have a few boxes filled with potential lawn sale items, a basement with piles of objects we still need to make decisions about, and a partially decluttered workshop in the backyard.

After a lot of thinking about our housing situation, we’ve taken moving off the agenda for now. With some modifications, we can have most of what we need and want where we already live. Perhaps the day will come when we need or want to downsize into a smaller house or an apartment or condominium, but we’re not yet ready to give up the indoor and outdoor space we have.

For now, we are enjoying the new cocktail my partner recently came up with while admiring the (admittedly newly acquired) rooster that guards our pea patch.

To make Gin Rooster Fizzles for two, combine 2 ounces each ginger lemonade concentrate, rhubarb lemonade concentrate, and freshly squeezed lime juice, 3 ounces gin and ice in a shaker. Shake vigorously, pour over fresh ice, add club soda to taste and stir. Sip while surveying your clutter.

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