What we keep (and what we don't)

Just looking around my small studio, I'm so aware that almost every item carries a story.  Whether a book, or cup, or box -- these are things that all made the cut (or have entered under a new minimalist rule of something must go if something comes in).

I'm not a minimalist;  I like small objects that speak to me, especially old tins and weathered wooden boxes (and small ceramics, both useful and not).  I had plenty of space in our old house in Clemson for display of boxes, objects, vintage furniture that had no purpose, etc.  There was also plenty of space for extra clothes, linens, and various things that had come from our previous move, including lots of china, antique glasses, etc. that had been gifts.

We weren't clutter people, although I was prone to stacks of things on my desk, both at work, and at home in my study.

I'm quite sure that I've written about decluttering before, but only found this delightful post with a search for "clutter" in Natural Gardening.  It was about finding some lovely fall leaves in an old phone book on a desk stack!


You'll notice the old berry box and the copper pots, too.

Hmm, I thought I'd try a search about "decluttering" and brought up a post about taking my own advice re gardening, with a slightly snuffle-producing photo of the view from my old study, as well as still sound thoughts about considering one's landscape.

Study view, 2012

When we became closer to moving to Asheville, and downsizing to a much smaller house, not originally bought with "retirement" in mind, I decided to get proactive.  (Moving through the emotional adjustment of leaving a house and garden that I loved is another story for a different post.)

I was NOT going to have a storage unit or boxes of stuff cluttering up spaces.  I went through two classes at the local OLLI about downsizing (and decluttering), and slowly started shedding stuff.  I started with clothes -- that was the easiest part.  Geez, why did I still have all of these clothes stuffed in my wardrobe and walk-in closet?

And I was on a roll. Some things were a lot easier than others.


  1. Lisa, I loved this, and it really made me think. You see much of what would have been considered, perhaps, "clutter", though I was never a hoarderish type person, I lost in the fire. Since the fire my acquisatory nature was nipped in the bud both because I no longer have the income to buy non-essentials but seriously, when you lose a lifetime of possessions from antiques from parents and grandparents, to baby photos of your children which you cherished above all else, to darling vintage furniture and things you collected for years to make your dream home, in a few hours one terrible night the heart simply goes out of you. You no longer trust that any precious things that you collect might safely remain. I remember, for example, buying gorgeous mugs on etsy (I loved handmade pottery things) for $30 and more. Now my most cherished, most used big yellow mug I got for $3 at the grocery store. It was a catastrophic kind of downsizing, that fire, in which I lost 4 beloved birds that I had handraised and had for 20 years. No possessions mattered next to that kind of loss and no physical possessions have mattered since. An odd number of things survived the fire, many I actually haven't touched in the 4 years I have been back in this house. I want to get rid of them. I am not nor will I ever be a "minimalist" by nature. My current splurges are used books on amazon (Yesterday I bought 2 -- 1 for $1 and one for $.60 that were recommended by a minister I have been working with.) I buy flowers, occasionally, at the grocery store, or a little tiny something for my grandchildren when I can. But things, no, they don't matter to me anymore. The fire cured me of that. The hurricane has taught me more. Harsh life lessons, but blessings in their way. I admire you, and I love the berry box, the leaves, the copper pots. Thee are the things, in the end, worth treasuring...

    1. I can only imagine how catastrophic loss changes perspective -- the truisms certainly can't capture the reality. Things aren't really important, but surrounding ourselves with things that feel right, and eliminating what doesn't feel right -- that's such an interesting process.

      It must have been so strange to have the subset of things that came back after the fire, while losing so many cherished items and your beloved parrots. I was amazed at how much better I felt getting rid of old cabinets full of stuff, some interesting, some "bad karma" sort of things, and other "how did I get this?" stuff from long-gone family members, even if it was very hard to do at times.

    2. Lisa it was strange indeed, it still is. I have found this that were here before the fire that I don't even remember. It is very odd. And of course so many things survived that I didn't care about while so very many things, well, they are gone. The astonishing thing to me was that a lot of my books came back although some -- and they asked me if I wanted them returned or if they should just destroy them -- were charred. I said I wanted them, and those boxes contained some of my most cherished books. They are here on my shelves now, beloved old friends filled with underlinings, highlighted passages, and notes in the margins and charred black covers, a poignant example of what remains. There is simply no way to explain or describe what one goes through with such a devastating experience and the aftermath, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, though it sure puts a twist on "downsizing!"

  2. Oh how I have been working on decluttering. As you say some things come easily and some are more difficult. Clothes are not a problem for me. Fabric was a challenge. School cabinets took me two years to declutter. I believe getting rid of junk is good for the soil. My difficulty is determining what is junk and what are treasures.

    1. Decluttering certainly is an ongoing process! I like the simple screen of "is it useful?" with the corollary of "do I use it;" "is it beautiful?" (with the Marie Komodo corollary of is it in good repair?) and "does it have meaning?" It was hard to choose among my tins and wooden boxes, for example! And I kept the wooden berry box that was in the best condition, not the one with the broken handle....nor all of the copper pots....

      Going through my work file cabinets of 20 years -- that was hard. Ugh, one's worklife in review, recycled. Hmm. It didn't change the true impact of what I did, but so strange to get to shed most all of the paper evidence.

  3. We downsized to a smaller home, too, when we retired. I am nowhere finished de-cluttering, however, I have a good start. I started giving my children the things I wanted them to have rather than trust that things would happen the way I would choose later on. I feel good about that. Now I am working on my art clutter and my obsession with kitchen things. (What is OLLI by the way?)

    1. It's definitely good to have had the incentive to shed things as we downsized. Without kids, there wasn't any reason not to give away things that we could, some in a more meaningful way than others.

      One of my OLLI teachers (OLLI stands for Osher LifeLong Learning Institute, by the way) suggested giving people things that they had admired (and that you wanted to share), whether books, linens, clothes, etc. She passed on some beautiful hand-embroidered lines from her grandmother to me (like I needed them, but I have kept them, as they are beautiful, and reminded me of my own grandmother's things).

      I found doing HomeExchange was also a good incentive for taking a hard look at things -- why do I have a rusty old carrot peeler? what about the ratty old potholders? etc. It was useful for paring down "extra" stuff that had passed their time of usefulness and certainly didn't make me happy to use!

      We still have a few miscellaneous boxes (including a GIANT box of slides from my Dad's family photo collection, largely faded), that need to be sorted through, but that are hidden in the understairs closet. And the paperwork files are accumulating again. Hmm, maybe a winter project?

      P.S. There are OLLIs all over the U.S. ~~classes are taught by volunteers on all sorts of different subjects. The two women who taught the class I took had also written a very nice little book about Downsizing -- so they were great.


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