By Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: When you find yourself holding onto things you don't use and can't see because they are tucked away, take some time to question why you call these things important.
When I was cleaning out my parents’ house, I was surprised by the number of boxes I’d found that had never been unpacked in the thirty-eight years they’d lived in the house. I knew the boxes hadn’t been unpacked because there were dishes, glasses, and other breakable tchotchkes wrapped in newspapers dated the year we moved.
I thought this was unusual, but I’ve since heard several stories about people with a garage filled with boxes that they haven’t unpacked even though they’d moved into their new home five or more years ago. And someone told me that they still hadn’t unpacked everything after renovating their kitchen.
Do you have items that have been stored in boxes for years? These boxes are probably in your garage, in the basement or attic, or in a room or an area of a room that you don’t use. Even if you have the space to store these boxes, knowing that these items are waiting for you to make a decision about them can weigh on your mind and heart.
Some of the reasons you may have not unpacked after your previous move -
The Move Was Emotional
And the items in the boxes are connected to an aspect of your life that you once highly identified with – spouse, parent, daughter or son. The reason for holding onto these items could be connected to death, divorce, older children growing up, a parent moving into a nursing home.
The boxes may even contain items and papers that you used as part of a job you retired from.
If holding onto the items for now feels like the right thing to do, something you need to do, then hold onto the items. However, if you feel unsettled or uncomfortable keeping these things, consider if it is time to go through them.
This won’t be easy, so decide if you’d like to do this when you’re alone or if you’d prefer the company of a compassionate friend or a professional organizer. If you’re ready to declutter, let your friend or family member know this and ask up front that they not contradict your decisions or nudge you to reconsider your decisions to get rid of something.
Remember, your home is a space for you to live your current life.
You Don’t Want or Need the Items
Although you felt compelled to take the items with you when you moved, when you set up your new space you found it a relief to not face the items you have tucked into boxes. Consider the reasons you’re holding onto the items.
If you feel that you are the conservator of someone else’s belongings – a deceased parent, an adult child – consider that inherited items no longer belong to your relative. They now belong to you. And if you’re keeping things for an adult child, ask if they want the items … and if they do, figure out how to get the items to them.
The items may even be yours and you feel relieved that you don’t have to look at, clean, rearrange, or otherwise care for the items. Acknowledge that even though those items may have been important to you at one point, they no longer are.
When you decide to donate or toss these items, you’ll probably feel relieved.
You Haven’t Acknowledged that Your Interests Have Changed
One day, about a year and a half ago, I was scanning my bookshelves, looking for something to read. One shelving unit was filled with books of folklore, fairy tales, and mythology, as well as works that examined these types of stories. For years, I had an interest in these stories.
But, that day, as I scanned the books, I realized that I hadn’t opened one of them for over fifteen years. I’d packed and unpacked five shelves of books through six moves. How had I handled these books so many times without noticing that I was no longer interested in them?
Now, I’d unpacked my books (six!) times, but you may be storing items connected to past interests in boxes tucked into a corner of your garage.
I’ve actually found that pulling these items out of their boxes and telling yourself that you can keep them if you use them (or schedule plans to use them), helps you see that you won’t be camping, scrapbooking, or skiing any time in the foreseeable future … meaning that you can pass these items along to a new, appreciative owner.
Unpack Those Boxes
Even if you decide to keep everything and pack it back into those boxes, unpacking the items and really seeing what you have stored can help you get a better sense of what and why you are keeping items in boxes that you haven’t unpacked since your previous move.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.