Decluttering can be particularly difficult for creative individuals, especially writers. Because we mine our own pasts for stories, we tend to hang on to mementos that feel significant. We are collectors of observations, but also of objects. We often are prisoner to the notion that the things around us will spark ideas. And while sometimes they might (having just the right pen really does encourage me to write), there is deeper inspiration, I think, in sparsity. When the clutter is cleared away, when our surroundings become more spacious through the absence of unnecessary things, we can think big.
This month (the month of my birthday), I begin my journey to decluttering. I hope you’ll follow along (you can get posts delivered to your inbox), and offer your own ideas and questions in the comments section. On my first day of decluttering, I begin with a break-up letter to my stuff (scroll to the bottom to see what inspired it).
It’s not me, it’s you. You’ve been around too long. Don’t get me wrong, you have (mostly) served me well. I have loved you (sometimes). I have needed you (on occasion). But our relationship must come to an end.
You know who you are....
The clothes I have lived in, the shoes I have walked in, the plates I have eaten from, the coffee cups I have drunk from, the books I have read (and not read), the notebooks I have failed to fill, the toys my son played with when he still played with toys, the clothes he wore when he still liked piggy-back rides, the hats that made his head itch, the $32 organic sunscreen that made him sneeze, the basket of perfume samples that make me sneeze, the pans I don’t cook with, the bread maker I’ve never used because who has self-rising yeast, the timeless LBD I never wear because the last time I wore it, 14 years ago, I got drunk in front of my husband’s boss and shouted, in a room full of very respectable people, “Where’s the wine?”, the papers I’ve never filed, the files I’ve never organized, the filing cabinet that is one giant junk drawer, the art I’ve never framed, the frames with broken glass, the Halloween skeleton I never manage to pull out for Halloween, the stained Christmas tree skirt, the plate that says “Cookies for Santa” that I can never find until Easter, the Easter basket I can never find until Labor Day, the old wrapping paper, the cords that were once used to power some device that has long since disappeared, the devices that have long since disappeared (I know you’re around here somewhere), the greeting cards I bought and never sent, the envelopes for which I can’t find the matching cards, the endless slips of paper on which I have scribbled notes to myself that I can’t read, the glitter, the half-bottle of glue, the pipe cleaners I bought for craft projects when my son was young enough do do crafts, though he never embraced crafts, the jumbo crayons that were on his desk the first day of kindergarten, the pens with too fine a point, the pens with too felty a point, the sweatshirts (so many sweatshirts!) my husband bought me out of kindness, which have kept me warm for many years but which take up an entire large dresser drawer, the photo albums I never put pictures in, the lamp I never liked because the light it gives off is dingy...
It is time for us to part ways.
You once made me happy (or most of you did, anyway), but now you just make me anxious.
You once made me happy (or most of you did, anyway), but now you just make me anxious. We had some great times together, but no longer. When I look at you, I find myself thinking, “Why are you here?” And yet, instead of letting you go, I just look away.
Many of you are still here because of nostalgia (I cry just looking at you, crayons from kindergarten), but plenty of you are here because of inertia (hello, old pens and dingy lamp), a few of you are here because you were expensive and it seems wasteful to say goodbye (poorly fitting designer silk dress in colors that skew “clown,” I’m talking to you), and some of you (mostly in the kitchen), keep insisting you’ll one day be useful (a history of culinary disinterest assures me that you won’t).
No matter the reasons, the effect is the same: You make me tired. It’s time. I imagine my home without you here ― shelves where the books I cherish are easy to find, drawers where the new batteries I need aren’t buried beneath the old coasters I don’t, closets where nothing suffocates. When you are gone, I know I will breathe better. I might miss you for a minute, but I’ll deal.
Losing you will bring me closer to the person I want to be. Lighter. Less crowding on the page and off. More white space. Think Danish (the design style, not the pastry). So, dear stuff, goodbye. No need to make this harder than it needs to be. Go with grace.
This letter was inspired by Courtney Carver’s 21-Day Decluttering Challenge. Thanks, Courtney!
Michelle Richmond is the author of four novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog, and two award-winning story collections. Go here to view Michelle’s current online writing classes.