O.k, I’ll be honest. I am a freak. Yeah, I admit it. I am one of those people that gets excited about de-cluttering. I can’t wait to tackle an overfilled closet or a messy drawer and I can throw anything away. I mean anything. Sometimes, I’ll admit, this causes problems for other family members in our house. There are frequent questions of, “Mom, have you seen my….toy, sketch book, shirt, car?“ I always reply with the same answer, “I haven’t seen that in a while.”
This phrase is usually accompanied by a practiced thoughtful look as if I am really trying to remember where the item may be. (In high school I played Anita in West Side Story--unfortunately, I sounded more like mediocre Russian actor in a bad 80’s cold war film than a sultry Puerto Rican diva,) but acting is acting, and my kids have believed my innocence in their missing stuff for so long that my charade is expected.
Over the years, various items of import have disappeared into the abyss of the pile to Goodwill. Clothing my husband just shouldn’t be wearing (no grown man should ever wear a Spiderman t-shirt), toys that are just too annoying for words, (no doubt given by well-meaning grandparents) and yes, even a car.
You caught that earlier, right?
Last summer, my mom was visiting and she looked at the aging Range Rover parked on the street in front of our house…exactly where it had been sitting the last time she visited six months previously. All four tires were bald. The windshield was cracked, and internally that hunk of junk was so backward and messed up that in the interest of keeping this post under the length of the Bible, I’ll refrain from boring you with the details. However, this particular car had been a gift. During a bad run of cars, a dear friend drove it across the States to give us a way to get from one place to another in a semi-reliable fashion. The Rover lasted 4 years longer than we expected until she came to an unremarkable stop in front of our house.
My mom asked, “Why are you keeping this car?” The answer was simple: I was holding onto this un-running car as a symbol of the selflessness that had been so generously given to our family. Every time I looked out the window and saw it, I was reminded that someone loved me so much that he spent his time to drive it from Boston to Montana just because we were in need. Given its broken down state, and the fact that I would have to dump more money into the car than it was worth just to fix it, I was still having a hard time letting it go. Plus, my husband was obsessed with how cool it was. I was convinced that it looked like we belonged to the Russian Mafia (minus the poor accent), and he felt that it was his macho dream car come true. Needless to say, all of these reasons were just plain stupid when it came down to it. It didn’t run, and was costing me money each month as I paid the insurance to keep a nice reminder of a great gift. So….did I really need to keep it?
We have all felt the reluctance of getting rid of things that seem to be overtaking our homes. We say to ourselves, "It was a gift--It was my grandpas---Its an antique." We go round and round justifying all the reasons we should keep great-great-Grandma's broken plate that she carried across the plains. But how can we get rid of that plate without getting all misty-eyed about it? Some of the questions I like to ask myself before I chuck something are:
Is it beautiful?
Is it useful?
Does it bring me joy?
Have I used it in the last 6 months?
If the answer to any of these questions “No”, then it is time to pass my stuff into the world for someone else to enjoy. Here is the reality of all that Stuff we hold onto: It’s just stuff. Great-great Grandma’s feelings are not going to be hurt if we throw her broken plate from 1895 away. In fact, she would probably be the first one asking you why you were still hanging onto that broken trash after all this time! So often, our stuff ends up controlling us. We shove our stuff into boxes and storage units in order to hold onto memories of better times (come on, you know what I‘m talking about --how many of us still have that favorite pair of jeans in the back of our closets from before we got pregnant?!) And no matter how much I wish I could still fit into those jeans (and I hope every day) when I actually pulled them out of the depths of my closet, they were hopelessly dated and out of style.
Sometimes to realize a better and more fulfilling life for ourselves we have to let go. We have to let go of bad habits, bad attitudes, and even the stuff in our homes which stops us from having a place we can’t wait to get back to at the end of the day. Our homes, filled with things we love, can reflect our interests and views of the world, but they are not us. Simply, we are not what we own. My friend who gave us the car already understood this lesson. In spite of the Range Rover’s intrinsic coolness, he sent his car out into the world for someone else to enjoy. And now, it was my turn to realize that even if I didn’t own the car anymore, the gift given to us was not diminished in any way. I still had the memory of a great gift given so selflessly, a memory that I will always carry with me and, it was, after all, just a car.
After this realization struck, I painted on a white poster board in big red letters and placed it on the broken windshield….”Save my marriage, buy this Range Rover.” It was gone by the time my husband got home.
“Babe, where is the car….?”
“Hmmmmm…..” I said thoughtfully, “ I haven’t seen that in a while.”