The Difficulties Of Clearing Out (And Why It Is Better To Not Acquire)

I've always said it is easier to acquire than to clear things out, and some examples from my own recent experience may illustrate why this is so. Although it might be years before I can move, I continue preparing so that the time pressure of a sudden opportunity doesn’t force me to demand more from my body than it can handle (this actually nearly happened this week – the one person ahead of me on a waiting list for an open unit qualified despite expectations. If I had gotten the unit, I would have had to move within 30 to 60 days maximum, which would have been an arduous task without preparations.). I am planning and clearing now to make packing and moving easier and less expensive later.

Although I have been perpetually shrinking my belongings while living in my present apartment, I moved here from an 8-room flat where I lived alone for 30 years (I had a room for my birds, an office, a music room, a solarium…). I got rid of the majority of my belongings before my last move, but things tend to creep in even when we try not to let them.

My first realization when I began to plan how I would move was that my present home has two built-in, 3-drawer lateral files that won’t move with me but were in constant use. Only the 2-drawer lateral file cabinet that I bought will be moved, which meant condensing the papers in all filing cabinets to fit in the 2-drawer file. While living here I saved reams of documents from writing my three books, this monthly newsletter, the websites I manage, research projects, handouts and samples from the workshops I teach, and taking care of my housemate and being involved in the activities of the house, in addition to all my personal papers. I wasn’t sure it was possible to compact my important papers as much as needed, so I tackled this task first to not have to worry about it.

Sorting through my papers required considering the kind of life that I might lead after a move: what I can realistically do given my physical limitations, ambitions and interests, and the remaining time left in my life? I can't afford to indulge in fantasy, delusion, or sentiment. In a way, being forced to make clear-eyed choices is a blessing, in that my life is becoming simpler, lighter, and easier to manage. Our lives are often different than our expectations and when we release outdated and unrealistic expectations and their accompanying objects, everything becomes simpler and easier.

Deciding what to get rid of was the easy part – the harder part was getting this major volume of paper down the stairs and into the recycling bins at a rate that doesn’t overflow the bin and lead to excess volume charges. So I alternated carrying out papers with other items to prevent overload.

Another part of clearing out paper is that many pages must be shredded. The shredder is noisy and tucked in an inconvenient place so this task is scheduled for a time when I have other things to do in that area and don’t mind wearing earplugs to protect my hearing.

More difficult than clearing paper, my book collection had to shrink from filling eight 4x8 bookcases to just four. Some of the same criteria as for papers apply: let go of former life, expected-but-didn’t-happen life, and unrealistic-ambitions books and focus on the doable, fun, and worthwhile. For me, the sorting part for books was easier than for paper, but books are heavy so taking them down four flights of stairs and getting them to their next home more difficult. Two bags of books per trip downstairs is the limit for what I in my cart and get to Goodwill. Sorting faster than what can be removed would make my apartment less livable until the packed bags are out, so, as with papers, this preparatory activity had to be interspersed with others.

My disabilities make taking things to Goodwill hard, but a FreeCycle posting gets others to take them away. This process is not as easy as one might expect, but is good for things that Goodwill doesn’t accept, such as food, damaged, specialized, or odd items. And probably the most enjoyable part of this whole process has been giving things directly to people who will benefit from having them.

Once a shelf or file that is not going with me is cleared, it becomes a staging area where boxes or packing supplies can be stored until needed. Even the bookshelves that are going with me can be used this way as my actual move approaches (i.e., once I have a place to move to), keeping the floors and walkways clear.
Since I rarely acquire anything without a specific intention for it (allowing for purchasing errors and things not working out as planned), most extraneous items have accumulated from work. There are numerous lessons to incorporate into future activities to keep things at a more comfortable and manageable level:

A. Keep my activity levels at a point to make managing the volume of paper and books that result easier; no more crazy deadlines or impossible projects 

B. Minimize new magazines. I got suckered into one of those “4 new magazine subscriptions for just a dollar each” deals. Big mistake. Even if I had the time to keep up with them all (which I never would because there are more interesting things to read and do), and they had only good ideas, it is impossible to assimilate an enormous volume of new ideas in a sufficiently timely manner to prevent clutter. Further, the good ideas are not all immediately applicable (such as, suggestions for picking out glasses frames) and storing, organizing, and keeping track of the information is more trouble than it is worth. That’s what the Internet is for.

C. Evaluate a different tiny area of my home each week to see what is obsolete, not-so-charming-anymore, never used, or based on assumptions or expectations that aren’t going to happen
D. Think light. Instead of thinking that more items create more opportunities, realize that more items create burdens: more work, restricted movement, more hazards. Even potentially useful things such as extra copies of class handouts are only useful if they can be gotten to students, but storing and keeping track of them is too much trouble. I need to do a better job of deciding how many copies of things to make so that there will not be leftovers. And then if there are leftovers anyway, I need to be tough about recycling them right away.

E. The more physical limitations one has, the more important it is to stay on top of clearing things out. We tend to not get stronger or more capable as we get older and accumulations can easily pile up if we do not use self-discipline and regular efforts to keep belongings from exceeding our ability to control them.

F. Every object that is moved increases the cost of moving. The tighter the budget for moving, the fewer objects it is desirable or beneficial to move. I definitely don’t want to go into debt to move anything that I am not absolutely going to use.

© Gloria Valoris, 2014

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