I was recently given a generous monetary gift to splurge on something that made me happy. After much deliberation, I decided to refresh the long-ignored state of my domicile, to make it a sanctuary for me and the new chapter of life I am embracing as both of my daughters head off to college.
I took a good look around and decided to start with my bedroom. I have an antique, drop-skirt bedspread that I love and I knew I wouldn’t replace that, but the bed itself? Well, that was far past its prime. I could buy a new bed frame with the gift allowance. I’d just move the old bedstead to the basement.
That’s when the inner dialogue began. Why would I keep the bedstead, having just determined it was past its use-by date? Why did I want to hang onto this old, broken frame, and why is it so hard to let go of things?
I remember when I got the bed. I was thrilled to stumble upon it in a secondhand furniture store. Headboard, footboard, sides and rails cost $20. Delivery would be extra, but my car wasn’t big enough to hold it. The shop’s owner told me it was ridiculous to pay $25 to have it delivered, not that she waived the price. The memory of that day, of that argument, will be forever etched in my mind.
I wish I could say it’s the only sentimental clutter I have, but my house is full of it. As I get older, it seems the hold that some items have on me gets stronger. In Real Simple magazine, Julie Holland, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, writes, “Sentimental clutter is the adult equivalent of a teddy bear,” and assures us that wanting to hold on to a meaningful possession is normal.
The advice for letting go ran the spectrum: on one end, take your time, put things in boxes with dates to revisit; on the other end, call the Salvation Army and put it on the curb. Another article suggested removing items with no sentimental value—for instance, in the pantry or bathroom—to get in the disposing spirit. That appealed to me, so I built up some momentum by clearing out the outdated cans and boxes from the cupboards and moved seamlessly to the first aid kit, abandoned hair products and old towels. (Not the holiday-themed fingertip towels, oh no.) I was on a roll. I put the scratched wooden headboard out with the trash at the end of the driveway that night. It hurt.
My new bed frame does indeed make me happy. I like how my bed looks although, of course, now the rest of the room looks more shabby than chic. But I continue to purge, and my house feels more like a home with everything I toss.
Pepper Evans works as an independent-living consultant, helping older adults age in place. She is the empty-nest mother of two adult daughters and has extensive personal and professional experience as a caregiver. She has worked as a researcher and editor for authors and filmmakers. She also puts her time and resources to use in the nonprofit sector and serves on the Board of Education in Lawrence Township, NJ.