The universe has been sending me strong, no-nonsense messages to “Get Rid Of Stuff Now, For Heaven’s Sake!” I’m not one to ignore messages from the beyond — ever. You never know what the consequences will be of your negligence. I don’t mind getting rid of stuff. I mean, I’m not an obnoxious, or otherwise, hoarder of junk. In fact, most of my friends wonder that I have anything left after my periodic rummaging through closets, and the loft and bookshelves and kitchen cupboards. Every time I get one of those calls from the charity asking if I have anything to donate, I always say, “You bet!” It might not be much when they come, but it will be one less thing that I own.
My first recent nudge towards minimization, came after dinner at Cynthia’s house. Ok, it wasn’t exactly from beyond but rather just the West End of the city. It was my first visit to her home and as soon as I walked in the door, I felt a calmness and like I could breathe better. I told her this and she said that after the renovations were finished on her kitchen, she looked at all the bare, white walls and decided, right then and there, that that was how she wanted to live. Every day, she put out on the street a box of knickknacks — all the little tchotchkes that she had collected over the years that were holding space on tables and bookcases and hanging in the windows to catch the light. And, every day, all of it would be grabbed up by passing neighbours, until it was all gone. She just kept a few pieces of art as decoration. Whatever else she had, was out of sight. She swore there was no clutter anywhere.
Well, when I came home, I immediately got a trash bag and looked around for something to toss inside to begin my purging. The cats are very nervous when I get like this — especially at 10 o’clock at night. “Go to bed,” they hissed at me. But I couldn’t until I had found something to put into the bag. They went into hiding just in case I decided they were the obvious first choice. Think about it — one less cat, let alone two, I would be purging the house of not only furry beasts but tons of cat hair, a bunch of much-chewed toys, those little cat-plates I found in someone else’s box of street junk and, of course, the litter box. It was tempting — but I’d miss them too much and they know it. Instead, I found three little things that will not make any significant difference in my breathing or calmness and went to bed.
My second nudge towards simplification came a few days later. It, too, wasn’t exactly from the beyond but closer to the netherworld than Cynthia’s house. It happened when I sat down to start working on a will. You cannot imagine how much I hate going through this process. Oh, it’s not because I’m having to deal with my inevitable death, no, that’s a given. It’s because I have to take care of things like finding an executor. I don’t know why Oh Canada won’t let me use any of my brilliant nieces or nephews. But no can do so I have to plead with my two younger-than-60 friends to accept the role. I haven’t told them all that’s involved — maybe I won’t. Then, as if that’s not enough, there’s funeral arrangements and lawyers to deal with which, is bad enough in themselves but then they charge you an immoral amount of money. And, of course, there’s all my stuff to deal with. In one of the last two wills — don’t ask why I’m now writing a third — I had a whole list of things to be given to particular individuals, most of whom are no longer about my life but, unfortunately, the stuff is. And, as we all know, it’s not fair to leave all your junk when you die and expect someone else to take care of it. Amen.
So in that spirit, I decided to abandon the will — Yes, I know it was pure avoidance — and re-start this cleansing of stuff by going through a shoebox of letters that I had kept from various folks over the years. There were a bunch from my mother and I decided that I would re-read each one and then tear it up to re-cycle. She was an amazing writer and correspondent. Her letters were always funny and informative and full of her comings and goings. I was enjoying the process until I came upon one, written on orange paper. She started by saying that she was writing this at 6 a.m. I started to feel guilty immediately. I must have said something particularly outrageous in my last phone chat — I had a habit of doing that — because this letter was a litany of my wrongs and her rights. I thought about keeping it just as a humbling experience but, instead, tore it up and sent an “I’m sorry” up to heaven just in case I hadn’t apologized for whatever it was I had done at age 40. Progress was being made, one piece of paper at a time.
I felt like I needed to make a grander gesture towards this de-cluttering than just three items in a garbage bag and torn up letters. A good beginning, I thought, was to send back to people things that properly belonged to them. It was also easier than tackling the sentimental this-and-thats I had about the place. I knew that if I started with them, I’d get stuck remembering the story behind the thing, and in the end, I wouldn’t be able to put it in that bag that still had only those three, initial offerings. So, instead, I started with the prayer books that had belonged to Presentation in Spain. When she died, one of my friends, and hers, “stole” them out of her house. She wanted me to have something that belonged to this woman and knew her sons wouldn’t give me anything. I’ve had them for years and years, but, now, I decided it was time to pass them on to her granddaughter and let her decide what to do with them. I felt a wee, very little increase in the airiness of my apartment as I packaged them up.
I may not be able to do Cynthia’s “box-a-day” method, but if every day I deal with one little thing then eventually I’ll deal with all of it, eh? I’ll tell the cats they’re safe for the moment — well, until I don’t have anything else to purge. You should never let them get too complacent in their sense of ownership or you might as well move out.