Today I committed one of decluttering’s cardinal sins: I packed away an entire collection without sorting through it first to see what was worth keeping.
See, in one corner of my bedroom, right between the door and the desk, there’s a stack of three pink plastic milk crates. They’ve occupied that spot ever since I was fourteen, when I bought them to accommodate my growing ABBA collection. At the time, my love of ABBA was an all-consuming obsession. Honestly, “obsession” isn’t a strong enough word to convey my love of ABBA when I was a teenager, and hearing it used to describe my intense interest in anything since then is laughable. If you didn’t know me when I was in high school, you have not seen me truly obsessed.
As you can imagine, I expressed this obsession the way many people do: I bought a lot of stuff. Soon those three crates were packed with records, CDs, DVDs, pins, necklaces, paper ephemera, and all kinds of merchandise – including a complete set of the rare ABBA dolls. But my obsession abruptly came to an end following my fiancé’s death when I was nineteen; ABBA was what first brought us together, and soon the memories I’d associated with the band became so painful that I couldn’t even listen to their music anymore.
But the collection remained where it had always been, greeting me from under and increasingly thick layer of dust every time I entered my bedroom. I felt a small twinge of pain every time I saw it all, but I couldn’t just get rid of it. So everything sat there completely untouched for eight years.
I wish I could say deciding to finally pack the collection away was some grand gesture signaling that I’d finally moved on, but it was motivated by simple practicality. While reading a popular decluttering book today it occurred to me that the main reason that stuff accumulated on my bedroom floor was simply because I didn’t have a place to put my purse when I came home. I always set it on the floor leaning against the crates. Soon stuff began to accumulate in front of the purse, then beside it, then spread until it had taken over the whole floor.
I needed to keep my purse and work bag close to the door, but leaving them on the floor was causing all kinds of chaos and putting them on the desk would only move the chaos up there. But if I emptied the crates, I could move my purse, work bag, and other little I’ll-need-it-soon items in there, leaving the floor clear. If there wasn’t anything there to encourage leaving more things there, maybe my floor could be a floor again.
Dusting off the past
I’ve written in this series before about my method for sorting through collections but what I said wasn’t applicable to this particular collection, which is so emotionally charged that it’s much more like a set of mementos. I also wrote before about what happened when I hit my first emotional roadblock while going through my boxes of keepsakes, but the lesson I’d learned then wasn’t practical; letting myself “feel the feels” about this particular part of my life always leads to a small-scale breakdown which renders me useless for at least a couple days. But I needed to do something with the stuff.
I decided that I couldn’t sort through the collection right now – I don’t have either the time or the strength to do it properly. So, going against both my own experience and the advice of every other declutterer, I just thoroughly dusted everything off and put it straight into a plastic storage bin. Even this simple process brought up difficult emotions; I almost burst into tears when I found a set of small photographs, long assumed lost, which my late fiancé had carried in his wallet. But finally everything was packed up, the crates were dusted off, and I had a new place to put my purse and work bag.
Someday when I’m stronger I’ll sort through that bin, if only to figure out which things I should sell or give to other ABBA fans. But for now, I feel better knowing that everything’s still there, even if I can’t see it. (Frankly, not seeing it might be the best thing for me right now.) I’m being ruthless with everything else; I think this is one thing I can afford to put off for a little while.
More in the Decluttering Quest series:
Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 9: A Matter of Life, Not Death
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library