Distilling

Although I know there’s just too much in this apartment for the space that we have I’ve been pretty slow to do much about it.  Recently, though, I’ve been feeling especially swamped by stuff and the urge to do something about it has been growing.  Now, with reading week upon me and my grading oh-so-close to done, I’m taking some time to sort through all the stuff and try to get this place into shape.

Historically, I’ve been a bit of a packrat.  I always have a lot of projects on the go and lots of ideas for things I’d like to do, which tends to mean that I keep a lot of stuff around for those afternoons when I suddenly want to knit a hat, pickle some cucumbers, and plant a miniature garden.  I’m also pretty good at accumulating things, which certainly doesn’t help.  Regular access to inexpensive secondhand goods has let me fill this place with all kinds of useful and interesting stuff, which I then hold on to.

On the up side, this means that this place is messy in the “way too many ideas and projects” sense, rather than the “ewwww gross and unclean” sense, which is hardly the worst thing in the world.  But I’d like it to get it to the point where it’s easier to clean, nicer for having people over, and just generally better meets our needs.  This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, and it probably won’t be the last.  I’ve called this process many things.  Decluttering.  Simplfying.  Purging.  Unstuffing.  But the term that I’ve recently found to resonate the most is distilling.  I’m trying to take all of these things that I’ve accumulated for one reason or another and get down to the essence of what I most want and need.  This means figuring out where I am, where I want to go, and what kind of things will be useful or helpful along the way.

I find that the biggest challenge is trying to get a sense of what kind of life I want to and expect to lead in the future and what things are worth keeping that work within this context.  Given my academic career and my interest in sustainable living and general preparedness, I often feel like I’m already dealing with two different lives, both of which appeal in different ways and come with their own sets of stuff.  Since I highly value both and would like to have them converge as much as possible,  there are as many reasons to hold onto the dress clothes, theory books, and external hard drives as there are to keep the gardening tools, canning kettle, and cookbooks.  Happily, there’s still stuff that doesn’t fall into either category that’s on its way out, so I don’t yet have to start making the hard decisions yet and can focus on the lower-pressure decision making around extra dishes, unread books, and impractical clothes

Sometimes things are slow – I’ll get rid of a few things a day, or ever a week.  But sometimes – like today – inspiration hits and they move more quickly, with me rushing around the apartment sorting, tidying, cleaning, and pitching things as quickly as I can (and usually running out of boxes and bags as I do).  The donation pile now includes a box of kitchen items, two bags of clothing, a small selection of books, the DVD player that hasn’t been used in years, and a dressmaker’s dummy that was broken when I bought it and spent six years in the corner doing little more than displaying a vintage coat, which isn’t exactly the best use of what space we have.

I’m one of those people for whom getting rid of stuff simply isn’t easy, much as I wish it were.  I feel silly even admitting that since it’s just stuff, after all, but it genuinely feels like everything has potential and there’s always something that could be done with pretty much any thing.  But…it turns out that the more I get rid of, the better I feel.  Not only is there more space in the apartment, but it feels like there’s more focus in my life as well, which makes getting rid of the pilled sweaters, too small jeans, unappealing books, duplicate cookware, and everything else that’s just taking up space feel even better.  There’s more room to move in here, and it feels like there’s more room to breathe, too.

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2 thoughts on “Distilling

  1. We’re downsizing to a frightening degree. We need to fit one wringer washer plus ALL of our stuff in one U-box — 5x8x7.5 and maximum 2000 pounds. (Luckily we’re moving into a fully furnished house and I have no emotional attachment in our current furniture.) So I’ve been giving away lots of things. I filled my living room floor with stuff that went to the thrift store, and then there are all the gifts we’re giving people.

    I’m finding that the more I get rid of, the happier I feel.

    • I’m glad to hear that. I’m sure it’s a lot to go through – especially for the kind of move that you’re making! – but it’s reassuring that it actually starts to feel good at some point. It’s amazing how little we can get by with, and I’m trying to keep that in mind.

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