The Roundtable
11:55 am
Tue December 10, 2013

Listener Essay - Letting Go Is Hard To Do: Confessions Of A Declutterer

  Tina Lincer is a writing in Loudonville, NY.

I once read an interview with a retired Vogue editor who was moving out of her penthouse to assisted living. When asked if it would be difficult to let go of so many fabulous possessions from her exciting, accomplished life, the editor replied, “Oh no, my dear. It’s not difficult at all. I know who I am.”

Remembering this while sorting through kitchen cabinets and junk drawers recently, I wonder what my stuff says about me. I find broken pencils, old address books, hair clips, paint chips in dozens of evocative colors, wine corks, cat collars from the feline who met a terrible end in our swimming pool, artsy refrigerator magnets and 31 pairs of chopsticks from Emperor’s Chinese.

Also: One Silly Putty recipe, typed, on yellowed paper. My kids are twenty-somethings, so clearly my Silly Putty days are over, gone the way of Sippy cups, Scooby Doo movies and grilled cheese sandwiches without the crust. Then again, you never know. I may need this recipe someday. Grandchildren?

I’m having a harder time letting go than I imagined, which doesn’t jive with my opinion of myself as a non-hoarder. Haven’t I spent the last 15 years paring down, cleaning out and jettisoning junk accumulated through one marriage, two kids and three houses? Not for me, the overstuffed life.

In fact, I enjoy coaching others in what not to keep. While visiting out-of-town friends recently, I was disheartened to see their beautiful granite countertops had disappeared under heaps of everyday stuff, while their car-less garage overflowed with furniture, suitcases, bar mitzvah souvenirs (the bar mitzvah boy turns 26 soon) and mountains of musty books a neighbor had deposited because she was decluttering.

“Just dump it,” I insisted. “You’ll feel lighter, less stressed.”

Still, I know it’s not easy to clear out things that carry memories. Here, in my cabinet, for instance, are four water pitchers, all lovely, unblemished and unused, including one I got for an engagement gift. The marriage ran dry but the pitcher persists.

And how can I discard this Pepto-pink antique dessert ware from my former mother-in-law, who’s evolved from relative to ex to friend? My daughter’s already told me not to save them for her. I can’t tell if she’s missing my sentimental gene or is simply practical. Her West Village apartment kitchen is smaller than a Macy’s dressing room.

There’s something to be said for the minimalist approach. In fact, I live with an uber-minimalist. My partner took little from his married house when he divorced; then, when we merged households, he gave away or tossed many of our things. Boxes filled with my once-beloved possessions are enjoying a second life somewhere, and I don’t miss any of them.

I can do this, I know. Clutter is bad, stagnant energy. The dessert set had a sweet life, and now it has to go. No room. I place plates and matching cups on the counter, along with 27 of the chopsticks, hearing my partner’s voice, like a mantra, as I do so. Toss it. Keep it spare. When it comes to clutter, there can be no hesitation.

So out with the corks and clips. Ditto broken pencils and doomed color swatches. I never was the Flamingo Dream type.

The cabinets are clearing. Goodbye to old glasses, chipped bowls, orphaned silverware. And in one inspired swoop-de-doo, I turn around and deep-six half the contents of my fridge, including withered herbs, lumpy gray mystery leftovers and once-promising hot fudge sauce turned cement-like.

I confess, I’m breathing easier. Yes, I know who I am – someone who’s working hard on her stuff.

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