Decluttering: Part II

In the last post, I mainly focused on recounting a chronology of events; in this entry, I would like to highlight the emotional and psychological background of the decluttering process I am still going through (even though I must admit that I’ve been slacking on that front since I wrote the last entry – it’s definitely time to get back in gear).

My household chores consist of cooking and grocery shopping as well as doing the laundry and, once in a while, cleaning something. My husband is responsible for most of the cleaning / vacuuming, he does the dishes and makes the beds. I am now in a state where I can fulfil my share regularly, at least preparing our meals and shopping. The laundry and cleaning get put off sometimes, unless it is really urgent, but overall it is not too bad either and never for longer than a day or two. I actually enjoy the cooking and grocery shopping, which undoubtedly helps a lot.
Decluttering, on the other hand, is a highly stressful process. Every box I open contains a plethora of keepsakes, memorabilia and knickknacks which are ten to fifteen years old: fountain pens, postcards, key rings, fashion jewellery, notebooks, candle holders, foreign coins, bookmarks, rubber bands, hair clips, dices, and pebbles. There are a lot of pebbles and pieces of rock in my flat – picked up at various destinations of my travels as well as just in my home area. This might sound odd to some people, but those pebbles are not only souvenirs, but also bring me aesthetic pleasure. I like looking at them and the way they feel to the touch. However, I got to the point where I just had too many of them and they were sitting on too many surfaces. There are only a few I will keep, but 90% are in a plastic bag now, which I’ll empty into the local river one of these days.

The popular advice to put something into a box and throw that box away unopened after a year if you have not missed any of its contents just does not work for me – it actually creates anxiety for me. Instead, when I “attack” a new box or pile, I have to take a look at every individual piece in it and decide whether I want to keep it or not. It is almost like saying goodbye to the objects that won’t make it.
The more personal the item, the harder it is to let go of it: for example, I had two pieces of rope tied into nautic knots which I had made on a sailing trip to the Netherlands in 1996. They served no purpose, not even a decorative one, anymore. They took up space. They actually bothered me, I wanted them to be gone. And yet I could not bring myself to throwing the ropework away. Doing so just felt wrong. For several minutes, I stood there, holding them in my hands, remembering the day I made them and the time which has passed since, until finally I tossed the rope into the trash bag. I had gotten so stressed out over the process that I had to take a break for half an hour, and that is what it is like every day that I actually find the energy to organize.

Just where does the sentimental attachment come from? In some cases, where we’re talking about souvenirs from vacations, the answer is obvious: they are tokens of happier days. But just as often, they are just remains from the past and don’t evoke particularly fond feelings – sometimes even the opposite happens. Like with the retainers I had to wear as a teenager, which only remind me of all the physical pain they brought and the scars left inside my mouth by the braces and retainers.
The only explanation I can come up with regarding why I kept all those objects is that I tried to keep an inventory of my past. As if little parts of me would cease existing if there was no tangible proof of them. My wish of becoming an archaeologist could just as well be interpreted as a diagnosis – I tried to chronicle my own life.