Clearing House

When my partner and I down-sized, we moved from a 2400 square foot four-bedroom house with finished basement, two-car garage and big yard, to an apartment in downtown Vancouver. It was a radical shift. I’d never lived in an apartment and it felt particularly strange, when I found myself wandering around the new space at 3 a.m., to see other apartment dwellers doing the same, right across the street. I was living in a bee-hive.

Now, three years later, there isn’t a single thing I miss about the old place. In the new one, I know all my neighbours (including the guy whose office faces mine so we can give a wave of encouragement when we see the other working), I walk everywhere so I never have to worry about getting exercise, and I have a whole new appreciation of trees and parks because I walk through them on a daily basis. But the very best thing is how I learned to shed Stuff.

You know Stuff: the extra sofa in case someone comes to visit and the bureau that goes with it, and all the drawers to fill and then clean out, and the walls to wash and paint at least occasionally, and the extra rugs to clean and plants to water and couches and chairs and pictures for the walls and books…..

My first hour of “getting rid of Stuff” was a disaster – I got rid of nothing. The little black doo-dah my auntie gave me! Finally I asked myself: if I died tomorrow, would anyone care about this? Not! So out it went. Once I got going, it was fun. It felt like a cleansing. It helped to find a good charity, one that provided battered women in particular and poor families in general, with household items. So it was actually a pleasure to give up even the most treasured things, like my button-box. Some woman who’d had to walk out leaving her own button-box behind, would now enjoy mine. Knowing struggling families would get our Stuff made it easy to shed clothes, furniture, bedding, even fourteen boxes of books. Even Christmas decorations. In the new space, we’d have no room for a big tree.

We got rid of 95% of what we owned. But the best was yet to come. Now, whenever I’m tempted to buy something – usually something beautiful, virtually never something actually needed – I ask myself, Where will I put it? And know there’s no room. So I admire the object, and put it back.

It feels a relief.

Kate Braid

6 responses to “Clearing House

  1. I hope someday to have your strength!

  2. raymondbolton

    Good for you! My wife and I live in a house nearly the size of your original one, so we haven’t become as ruthless as you… yet. A couple of years ago, however, we did manage to dispose of two pickup trucks full of unnecessary junk. My first rule of thumb was if I hadn’t even looked at it during the last five years, I didn’t need it.

    Fun post.

  3. I am a terrible packrat, but had a little of your experience, though not by choice. At the end of 2010, we had a house fire. Luckily, we were all able to get out safely and the things that would have been impossible to replace, eg, family photos, were salvaged. We did lose a lot of stuff–stuff I am happier without and will not replace.

    At the end of the day, more stuff just owns you, rather than that other way around.

  4. My wife and I ended up reluctantly sold our house for less than we paid for it Three Years ago in the big US Housing Meltdown. We sadly moved into an apartment to morn the loss of our 5 bedroom, 3 bath, 3000+sq. ft. house. Our sadness didn’t last long as we learned the joys of Apartment living. No lawn to mow, no roof to fix; if I want something fixed or painted, I call the landlord. I wonder now, why I ever bought that money pit of a house! Never again will I become a slave to a house.


  5. Thanks everyone, for your thoughtful responses. I think houses – and the Stuff we fill them with – are enormously emotional. (Now there’s food for another blog!) Reading your comments, I realized how clearing out Stuff is a bit like publishing. I collect words, I I move them around, I savour and sniff and eventually get rid of them in a book or a published poem or essay. And then what a relief! It somehow gives more space – in the room of my head – for the next ones!

  6. Well said. 🙂 As we prepare for another move I’m faced with the same challenge. I’m amazed that you and J got rid of 95% of your stuff.

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