I was fortunate in that when James passed away I was able to keep our home. Granted, it's a little big for one person and two cocker spaniels, but it's home. It's the house I have now lived in for about 6 1/2 years-the longest I've lived in one location since I was a child. It's the house I love and am in no hurry to leave-mainly because moving is a pain. It's a house that can hold an awful lot of "stuff."
James and I didn't have a lot when we met, both of us living in one bedroom apartments. But then we moved into a two bedroom apartment and got an entertainment center and a futon. And then we moved into a three bedroom house, so we added office furniture. And then the dogs (puppies at the time) got a hold of my Atlanta Braves Beanie babies, so we bought an armoire to put our collectibles in. And then James decided he didn't like that our dressers were so mismatched. So we bought an armoire for the bedroom for him to use as a dresser and to put the TV on. And then I got a NordicTrack and an AbLounge (guess how often those are used). Our book, movie and CD collections kept growing, so we needed places to store them. And because there was still shelf space we just kept adding to it...
Then my dad died and my brother eventually got tired of paying for a storage unit so he shipped all my childhood things to me. And then James' dad died and we brought home things from his house. And then my mom decided she didn't have time for her crafts so I got all her craft supplies. And everything pretty much ended up living in the guest room.
And then James died and I was left in a house full of stuff. A house, as I said, that is really too big for me and two small dogs. But it was my security blanket so I didn't do anything about it at first. And then I started to think about moving and ultimately came to the conclusion I'd downsize the stuff and then I'd downsize the house. I said this for over a year without doing anything about it-I was going to get to it but I had too many other things going on. And then I would start on it and it was just too overwhelming so I'd stop.
And then someone entered my life and without ever having heard me say "first I'll downsize the stuff and then I'll downsize the house" said I needed to remove the clutter from my house but it'd be really overwhelming and he'd help me. We picked the weekend of December 8th to get started on it.
Up to this point, I'd donated a lot of James' things but I'd reached a place where I just wanted everything that had belonged to him gone. I started with the kitchen prior to my friends' arrival and realized this wasn't feasible as a lot of James' things I still have are things I actually use (like the pots and pans). But I quickly filled a couple of boxes of other stuff: seriously, how many vases does one person need? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it isn't 13! And why was I keeping commemorative glasses from events I didn't even go to?
I ended up having a massive breakdown as I came across a couple of pieces of James' Steelers memorabilia I hadn't given away, namely his over-sized throw blanket I'd given him for Christmas less than two months before he died. I stood there clutching the blanket sobbing my eyes out for a good 15 minutes. Luckily, my friend did not witness this. He didn't have to-he could see it on my face when he arrived. I didn't think I'd be able to do it. I still wanted to hold on to my security blanket. But I've known all along I have to do this to continue to move forward. I have to close one door to allow another to open. And not only that, I have to be in a place where I can allow myself to walk freely towards the open door.
My friend told me I could keep one item, but I'd have to write a paper to justify keeping anything beyond that. He was expecting a lot of resistance, but once I got going, there was no stopping me and he just let me go. By the end of the weekend, we'd taken two very full car loads to Goodwill. I had two car loads to take to my favorite non-profit. We'd given away two (of my 5) book cases, and a piece of never used exercise equipment (not the above mentioned never used equipment either!) on Craigslist. We weren't done by a long shot, but we made a pretty good sized dent.
Items were set aside to be given to specific people. Over the next couple of weeks, my dolls, the dolls I was saving for the daughter I will never have, went to the nieces of my best friend. Pictures went to James' family. My father-in-law's belongings went to his sister. My guest room went from an audition piece for an episode of "Hoarders" to a mostly empty space. The futon remained, but the entertainment center-the first piece of furniture we bought as a couple (actually I bought it when I moved in with him in exchange for splitting rent)-was given away via Craigslist.
I was greatly encouraged to do this by several people. They all told me that once I got rid of the clutter, I'd be a lot happier. I knew I needed to move out the past to allow a future to move in-to make room for someone new. But what if I went through this process and someone new never entered the picture? Would I regret it? I still wonder that. And I didn't feel lighter or happier-this wasn't just closing the door on my life with James. This was closing the door on my life since birth (I had stuffed animals that I'd had since I was a baby). This brought up a lot of memories-both good and bad. I don't like not knowing what is around the bend for me and seeing my rooms being emptied out made me feel empty inside. I couldn't look at my guest room without having a panic attack. When I finished it, my friend was posting my filing cabinets on Craigslist. (I went from two very full 4-drawer filing cabinets to one 2-drawer I was able to pick up that perfectly matches my desk). He asked how I felt about it and I burst into tears. I told him the emptiness of the room was how I felt my life was now going to be.
It's still a work in process, though the purging phase is coming to an end. I'm running out of things to donate-finally. My friend has done several small repairs around the house and has plans to help me with some other things outside when the weather is nice enough for it. I've only had a couple of days when I've really wanted to go to Goodwill and get all my stuff back, so I'm avoiding going in to the one by my house. (Actually, it's a Goodwill Outlet so I generally avoid it anyway as I always feel I'm going to end up with cooties when I go in there). I am starting to feel a little freer. I do feel more aware of my surroundings in some ways; I've been noticing more how people respond to me. There hasn't been anything so far that I've thought "I wish I would have kept that." In fact, I keep looking for more to donate, which has me afraid I'll go too far in the other direction and won't be able to stop purging. I don't feel quite as empty and I'm losing the feeling that I've done this all for nothing. It's growth and it's long overdue. And now the things I wasn't using, the books I wasn't reading, the clothes I wasn't wearing can be enjoyed by others who will use, read and wear them.
But the fear of the unknown future is still looming over my head. Too bad I can't just put that in a box and take it to Goodwill.