As a writer and an artist, it’s difficult to find time to practice my craft. But practicing my craft is how I get in touch with my true self. With a breastfeeding baby and a toddler, I used to joke to friends that my true self was packed away in a box in the garage and I’d unpack her again in a few years.
Well, I finally (and literally) got into that garage and went through all of my boxes last weekend. It was a self-affirming, rejuvenating process that I wasn’t expecting and I loved every minute of it – from the termite dust (ew!) to the crusty wisdom tooth (what?) to the Brownie portrait (aww…) to the blue book exams (why?) to the old love letters from boyfriends long (thankfully) forgotten.
I’ve finally gone through all of my belongings, gotten rid of the clutter and unpacked my true self. It feels great and I, the mom and woman I now am, feel so much more connected to the girl I used to be. With the birth of both of my children over the past five years came two mini-identity crises, and going through my boxes of books, mementos, and pictures was a way to ground myself in myself yet again.
As I sifted through my dozen or so boxes of mementos, I got to separate what was important from what was not. Important things: my father’s silver identification bracelet from when he was a baby. Not important things: a program from an off-off-Broadway play I don’t remember seeing. I kept the important things, and threw out the non-important things. In the end, a dozen boxes of ephemera became two tidy plastic bins of truth.
Here are 7 things I learned during that process, and why cleaning out the garage could be good for you, too.
1. Don’t throw away your old photographs.
Since everything is digital these days, I find that boxes of photos aren’t filling up as quickly as they used to. Lately, I only print the photos that I want to put directly into an album. Everything else is on the computer or a hard drive. So, keep them! The way we’re going, printed photos might not be around forever.
2. Don’t save every single birthday card or note you’ve ever received, just save the ones that deeply move you.
Toss the rest.
3. You’ll be able to see who are the “series regulars” of your life, and who are just the “guest stars.”
The series regulars first appear in childhood and stay with you all the way up to the present. The guest stars appear at a particular moment in your life to teach you a certain lesson or grant you some wisdom; you’ve probably lost touch with them already.
4. Jewelry can have totemic qualities.
I’ll admit it; I didn’t get rid of any of my old jewelry. Seeing old pieces that I used to wear in high school really brought me back, in a sensory way, to memories I had long forgotten. My old jewelry had its own aura, and I saved it all.
Since it doesn’t take up a lot of space, it’s easy to store. Some future progeny might even connect with one of your necklaces or rings someday. And as fashion is revolving, I even put a few pieces back in my current jewelry box.
5. Only keep the old clothes that you can wear again or that might make a good costume some day.
Donate everything else.
6. Only keep the furniture that is well–made and has good lines.
And only then if you think it is in good enough condition to use again within the next five years or if it's a family heirloom. Donate or sell the rest.
7. When it comes time to store the things you want to save, this is one instance where plastic bins are better than cardboard boxes.
I had to get rid of a few books from my childhood since the cardboard box they were in had started to deteriorate. Attics, garages, and basements can get musty and wet. Plastic is more durable and won’t have to be replaced. Plus, if you go with clear plastic, finding things will be easier. Label everything clearly, and even make a map of where things are stacked in your storage space. It will make re-location a breeze. Enjoy this process!
Even though it may frustrate you or seem silly that you saved some of these items for so long, you saved them for a reason. Think about that reason, and appreciate what comes back to you. Don’t get angry at all the crap you’ve collected, just be in the moment and realize that at one time or another, this old pair of sunglasses or that soccer trophy meant something to you.
Be honest with yourself about what’s really important. Throw away the things that you’ve outgrown, but save the things that are still essentially you. You’ll be surprised by what you can discover about yourself.