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Stop Beating Yourself Up! Embrace Your Clutter! (Well, Some of It Anyway)

By Danna Walker July 03, 2023 Lifestyle

I recently paid a high price to figure out I can’t and won’t get rid of all my clutter. Even my “throw-it-all-out” husband colluded with me in this discovery.

I say this after:

  • Putting 30 garbage bags full of my clothes out for a porch pickup from Purple Heart.
  • Dragging a beat-up old table and mildewed storage shed to the curb and watching with satisfaction as the solid-waste disposal truck crushed them to bits.
  • Gifting my 1977 red-label Levis with the perfect white paint stains and two more bags of clothes to my niece.
  • Offering up for free an old CD player, 19-inch TV, assorted picture frames and a set of fireplace tools to eager neighbors on the Buy Nothing Facebook site.

Then I paid two taskers to take everything out of my attic, sorted through it all, and made two trips to the county dump.

I’m exhausted and feeling pretty proud of myself. But here’s what I haven’t told you: I paid the same two taskers to put two-thirds of what was in the attic back, with a 25 percent tip, no less. I still have four closets-full of clothes, including a hanging rack in my office-slash-studio-slash-shoe emporium, and my desk holds two computers, eight notebooks, stacks of books and a “World’s Best Boss” mug (from a former staffer) overflowing with pens.

I’m obviously no Marie Kondo (though even she now admits that having a third child has brought with it a messy house), but I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder.

Why, then, did I still have that pair of jeans, as well as a worn leather briefcase circa 1986, and various other seemingly useless items?

Thanks for the Memories

It was to preserve memories, of course, and in my case to preserve them for writing and hopefully leaving a family legacy.

“Write a memoir” was always on my to-do list, but instead of doing it, I stashed away little time capsules as I entered each new phase – the briefcase containing my daily needs as a wire service reporter at the U.S. Capitol, a raft of clippings, a file cabinet full of calendars dating from the 1970s, letters from friends, photos, half full diaries, clothes marking every era, swizzle sticks from favorite bars, now-vintage shoes and jeans, a power suit from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, boxes of printed emails, dissertation files, graded papers from my professor days, record albums, books, a pair of original Jane Fonda-era leg warmers. The list goes on.

Always, I thought, the writing would come later but I felt I was safe as long as I had these physical reminders. They were like the proverbial “string” I gathered as a journalist on the trail of a story. I became buried in unwritten memories.

As a result, like many people, I imagine, the winnowing process became a minefield. Less stuff, less stuff, less stuff, is the admonishment these days. We have too much of it, to be sure. But I can’t help but feel that the matching denim shirts that my mother embroidered for my college boyfriend and myself – vintage 1977 – have earned a permanent place in the world, at least as long as I have stewardship over them. The memories of the time would disappear in the real-world discard pile, otherwise, wouldn’t they?

When I opened the box in the attic containing my own children’s art, I remembered the hours of work that went into the poster map of Arizona and the cardboard RV with the personalized license plate bearing family initials. I wouldn’t have recaptured those things without that box, which, by the way, got put back in the attic.

I Hoard, Therefore I Am

What I’m getting to, of course, is that perhaps this desire to keep things to hold memories in a physical place is something we all share. Maybe I can be free of more of my clutter once I record what it meant to me or maybe I’ll continue to hold onto it, even if I’m past thinking that I might need this or that thing one day.

It doesn’t help that some of my curating has paid off. I was fulfilled when the t-shirts I saved from the 1970s were worn by my daughter as the classic and irreplaceable vintage tees they actually became while stored under my bed. I had fantasized that it would happen that way, and it did – Armadillo World Headquarters on her chest 20 years after I sported it while walking through Central Park in awe of my trajectory in life. If I had tossed it, I wouldn’t have the double layer of meaning I now have for my memoir. Quite a gift.

Isn’t integrating the items of the past into the present an expression of a creative force? Yes, it’s easier to just go to Ikea and Target for new stuff, but what do you bring home? Copies of the past, mostly. Nothing memorable, to be sure. Objects can create an intimacy with the person and lived history.

Putting it all down might rearrange the reality in my head. What notions do I keep and what do I give up? That’s a profound task of writing.

After my recent purge, I created more room, especially in my “studio,” but not more time, of course. I may run out, and my children will have to do what I couldn’t – toss the old worn denim shirts. I imagine that act coming with a quick glance and a, “What in the world? Must be from Mom’s hippie days.” Or, “Jeez, these must be from the 70s or something.” Or perhaps, no comment at all.

That’s okay. I’m writing it all down, as we speak.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you felt the urge to purge? Why do you think you hold on to vintage items? Is it important to record the past and ponder the physical things that have meaning for you?

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Patricia Black

Loved your inspirational article! Please share your upcoming journey to declutter.


Thank you, Patricia! I certainly will!

The Author

Danna Walker is a writer, educator and student of media. She is passionate about getting better at life no matter what age. Danna got her Ph.D. at 50, got serious about exercise at 65 and has rekindled an early passion – style.

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