Author Roberta Messner shares some of the discoveries she made while clearing out her space
Posted in , Feb 1, 2019
Most of us have been there. We suddenly discover we have more stuff than space, or that our treasures don’t seem to enjoy the spotlight like they once did. I found myself in that predicament recently, when props I no longer needed for my home-styling business overtook every spare inch of my home. My situation may be a little different than yours, but the discoveries I made will apply to just about any decluttering effort. Here’s what I learned:
Start with the stuff in containers. Any true, long-lasting organization begins from within. At the start of my own effort, I headed to Wal-Mart where I purchased five of their biggest plastic storage containers and three packs of colored file folders. That first morning, when I was filling one of the tubs with decorative smalls—pictures, an antique coffee grinder, knickknacks, and kitchenalia—my sister Rebekkah appeared on the scene. “You’re not solving anything, Roberta,” she challenged with a chuckle. “You’re just rearranging the junk. And did I mention, you may have a lamp fetish?” It was sad, but true.
Ask yourself tough questions. William Morris, the textile designer associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, once advised: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” When deciding what to keep or part with, ask yourself: Is it beautiful? Is it useful? Is it extra-special to me? For if you decide to keep and display everything, nothing seems special.
Consider rotating treasures. The Japanese do this to great effect. Put your rabbit display on a table top during spring, the chickens in the summer months, and your quilts during the colder days of the year. Store a limited amount of seasonal objects in a closet or trunk.
Create three areas: keep, toss, and donate or sell. I found this to be the hardest part of the process. In fact, I could only tackle it for a couple of hours a day, before becoming emotionally and sometimes physically exhausted. Delivering a few donation bags or boxes, whether to a Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity or a church clothing closet, after every session really helped me keep going. That way, I could actually visualize my progress. You might also want to snap pictures to remind yourself of how far you have travelled.
Ask God for help. Some of my objects were antiques and vintage items, and some of these have recently depreciated in monetary value. That’s when an inner accusatory voice would taunt: “You paid good money for this, Roberta.” Through prayer, I learned there are other costs besides fiscal ones. Not being able to fully experience your home—your center and respite from a world that isn’t always kind—is an important one. God really helped me on this consideration. I felt Him leading me to take things slowly and trust the outcome. Over the course of a few weeks of research, I found that antique textiles and certain collectibles had still maintained their value. These I sold to specialized antiques dealers directly. I cosigned the furnishings that still had decorative worth to a new upscale shop in my area.
Then it was time for even more difficult decisions. Do I take a significant loss on some purchases or find a good home for them?
An example of this was a circa 1890’s grandfather clock I no longer had room for (old clocks have really taken a downturn). About that time, I ran onto a passage in a magazine: “In the end, only three things matter: How much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you.” So when my mother’s dear hospice nurse mentioned that she had always wanted an old grandfather clock, I felt a nudge from heaven and I gifted it to her. It felt absolutely wonderful.
In the end, decluttering boiled down to what I actually needed to live efficiently and with great joy. Although I feared regret (“I have to keep this—my mother loved it”) and wastefulness (“Waste not, want not,” my Mamaw always said, and admittedly, I’d made some buying mistakes), the end result was a freeing one. Old batteries, outdated meds, dried-out cosmetics, and other objects that had outlived their usefulness no longer filled my cabinets and drawers. Yesterday’s décor props don’t take down my look these days. And my surplus books are enriching others’ lives now.
Above all, I have learned that the state of our homes affects the state of our lives. I planned to reward myself with a new outfit once the job was completed. But I don’t have to. Finally enjoying my home to its fullest, and living a more aware life, is the best reward of all.