Housecleaning for the soul

All the excess stuff in this house is driving me nuts. I have been a stuff-magnet since I moved back, gathering hand-me-downs from friends and relatives, hitting up the thrift stores and discount stores, and generally just finding a place for any item that comes my way.

But it drives me crazy! I hate fighting my way through a rack of things I won’t wear just to find that one shirt that goes with the skirt I have on. I hate not being able to find the right lid for the container I put my lunch in. I hate piling books up on the dining room table, and then mysteriously having no room for them on our packed shelves when I try to put them away.

Rae Rae mad!

While I’ve moved house every year or so my entire life, this recent cleaning binge has been especially therapeutic. When I got back to the States late 2010, I re-inherited all the stuff I’d left behind in 2004. Just tons and tons of clothes, decorative items, and some small pieces of furniture. On top of that, the things I brought with me back from Shanghai were incredibly emotionally charged. Three suitcases was all I had left of my entire post-college life, six years spent in Asia, and every t-shirt, every book, and every picture (what else can you bring with you?) was a scorching reminder of the life I’d left behind.

Too much stuff gets me down…

I wasn’t even able to consider throwing some of this stuff out: the jeans I bought on the way to the bar with my ex and my best friend, who died just a few months later; the denim miniskirt that I wore the entire summer of 2008; the Hooters Taipei tank that I used for my Halloween costume. Getting rid of things like that felt like giving up those six years, and who would I be without them?

But I’ve gotten fatter on American food and those clothes don’t fit anymore, and little by little, I am settling down here. I got some new jeans and new skirts, and I retired the most sentimental items to my giant rosewood chest. I packed up two big, black plastic bags full of other clothes, and if they don’t get sold in our yard sale, they’ll end up at a thrift store.

I had a kind of unsettling epiphany when I folded up a a pretty little leopard-print cocktail dress that I’d worn on Valentine’s Day in Shanghai in 2010, and I realized that my memory of that night seemed more like a scene from a movie. I felt detached from that experience, like that woman who had run amok as an expat in China was some exotic creature who has no relation to me here in this small Virginia town, 31, working 9-5 in a corporate job, falling asleep watching movies on Friday nights. My emotions lurched and I felt nauseous, but the dress is going to Goodwill.

Who am I?!

Are they items of clothing or artifacts of a past life?

I also put all my photo albums and old diaries in the chest where I won’t be so easily tempted to spend a lonely evening wallowing in past lives. That has less to do with where I am emotionally and mentally right now, and more to do with me just being a sentimental dork who can’t walk past my high school scrapbook without taking a peek and spending the rest of the night Facebook-stalking people I went on a field trip with 15 years ago.

It was hard to make a decision about my books, but I finally have to admit to myself that I am not going to read The Idiot’s Guide to Judaism, Understanding Symbolic Logic, The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, or Sophie’s World, and while we’re at it, Infinite Jest has been taking up a whole lot of space for more than a year now. Obviously, I buy a lot of books that I think I should read and enjoy, but I never get around to many of them. If I hadn’t felt like I needed to keep up appearances, I’d probably have lined my shelves with self-help books and novels by non-Western women writers.

Right now, I’m just deciding how to get rid of everything: ebay, a yard sale, or a thrift store. I think it’d be not-so-smart to just get rid of the books and nicer clothes without trying to get a little something for them, but I hate feeling skeezy and cheap and I’d love to clear out this place as fast as possible.

I gotta give props to Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project. I finally got around to reading her book by the same name, and while I wasn’t inspired to tackle a year-long happiness project of my own, I was glad to spend a few days with someone optimistic (that’s a metaphor: I spend a few days reading the book, not actually hanging out with Gretchen Rubin) and just so damn excited about cleaning out closets. I only have a passing interest in feng shui, but I am downright superstitious and I think getting rid of old stuff and keeping all your other stuff organized is just plain good for the soul. And if the question still remains as to why classic happiness thinkers and philosophers didn’t talk about the important of cleaning, my answer is because they either had housekeepers or were men, but either way, didn’t have to worry about it.

As for me and my house, we are getting shit done.

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One thought on “Housecleaning for the soul

  1. “I had a kind of unsettling epiphany when I folded up a a pretty little leopard-print cocktail dress that I’d worn on Valentine’s Day in Shanghai in 2010… I felt detached from that experience, like that woman who had run amok as an expat in China was some exotic creature who has no relation to me here in this small Virginia town, 31, working 9-5 in a corporate job, falling asleep watching movies on Friday nights.”

    I have the same issue with many of my China clothes too. I had lots of things made for me that don’t fit my current lifestyle, nor do they physically fit me anymore, but because they’re custom made they’re “irreplaceable” and I have a huge mental block towards letting them go. I wrote about the experience here.
    http://unintendedhousewife.blogspot.com/2011/04/giving-up-how-im-decluttering.html

    Clothes are my decluttering Achille’s heel. Thanks for the inspiration to give it another go.

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