Among the many unanticipated effects of our year of COVID-19 lockdown at home has been the urge to clean out and, for some, to downsize. Folks of my generation have been pondering downsizing for some time, and many, including moi, have actually done it. The rest are still talking about it.
Award winning novelist Ann Patchett and her hubby made the clean out, downsize their possessions effort, and she wrote about it recently for The New Yorker. She began by tossing out dishtowels with images of dogs, birds, koala bears, and more, but that was just a warm up. Eventually, out went etched crystal champagne flutes, insect repellant from prior decades, brandy snifters, dolls from her childhood, bottles of dried up glue, and silver trays, vases, serving utensils, and a tea set. Ditto multiple colanders, pencils, old campaign buttons, and a bowl and collar belonging to a long-gone dog.
Boy, do I relate to Patchett’s article!
Her cathartic experience seems to have spanned quite a bit of the COVID year. Mine, however, lasted only about 2 frantic weeks, courtesy of Uncle Sam’s military moving schedule. Every day was the same. I awoke and began asking myself the same series of questions about thousands of items, not unlike Patchett’s collection of lifetime detritus.
1. Do I want to keep this, and if not, who wants it?
2. If no Precious Jewel or friend wants it, what do I do with it?
3. Is this something a charitable organization could use, and if so, which one and will it pick it up or do I have to get it there?
4. If that avenue is closed, is the item recyclable or is it fated to take up space in the landfill?
It was emotionally and physically exhausting to the point that Precious Jewel and a Tennessee friend who had come to help called in a professional organizer to get me through the last few days.
That said, I do not miss anything. Occasionally, I wonder what happened to some piece of furniture or kitchen implement I once enjoyed using, but I really do not care. I am not sure I achieved what organizing guru Marie Kondo describes as “sparking joy,” but I am considerably less burdened by my belongings and enjoy using what I have and remembering how individual belongings came into my life. The bottom line is that no one — repeat, no one, needs several dozen pairs of black pants in various sizes and styles, not counting the black leggings that have been my daily sartorial choice during COVID.
Patchett and those downsizing and clearing out during COVID face a circumstance I did not pre-COVID. Charitable organizations that traditionally accept all sorts of donations are struggling. Many are concentrating on human services — food banks, health clinics, child care, educational needs, to the point that other needs and services are on back burners. In addition, charities need cold hard cash more than they need our household goods and memories. Their in-person fundraising events have come to screeching halts, and volunteers who are only too happy to help have been unable to gather. Charities, like most other aspects of life, will ease back to “normal” over time.
The year of COVID has focused us on the core of our lives — our families, our health, the overall quality of our lives. It has established yet again that belongings, even treasured ones, do not make us happy. Our relationships do. Unburdening ourselves of possessions confirms that.