For years I’ve been promising to get organized … clean out overstuffed closets, get rid of stuff that I no longer use, need or want.  There was so much to do and it was very overwhelming!!  It was made worse by the fact that my mother had lived with us for 7 years before she died.  She had her own apartment in our home so her clutter was not often on my radar screen. When she departed I paid little attention to most of what was hidden in drawers and behind closet doors.  I just wasn’t ready to deal with it.

My kids and brothers came and carted things away … pieces of furniture, linens, art work, some items of clothing.  But for the most part there was still a lot of stuff left to clean out.  My sweet husband took care of the contents of the file cabinets.  It took me a year and a half to get to the rest … the kitchen, her craft room with materials gathered for her collage work and trinkets collected from the time she was an antiques dealer.

By the time I was finished with my mother’s stuff, I was too tired to get to my own closets, the store-room and the huge amount of things we’d been hauling around with us for years.  My husband and I are pack rats, possibly bordering on being hoarders. We’re interested in antiques, art, addicted to books and save anything and everything that we think we can reuse.

During two previous moves we had gotten rid of lots of stuff but each time the collecting would begin in earnest once again. Last year, after living in our previous home for 10 years and rambling about its cavernous spaces, we decided we needed to downsize.  After all, we were getting older and the place was just too big for us to keep up with.  Besides, we both no longer wanted to live in the country.  We felt a need to be in the city where all matter of activity was closer at hand.

So this past March, we put the big house on the market, found a wonderful little house built in 1935 in a friendly old neighborhood in the city.  It had recently been completely remodeled and we started packing up.  But the little house was half the size of the big one we were moving from.  One morning at 3 AM it finally dawned on me that we would have to get rid of at least half of what we owned!

At that, my stomach churned like a washing machine tumbling large chunks of concrete and stone.  I began having panic attacks and dreamed of hiring a crane to come in and remove every thing we owned, load it into a tremendous dumpster then have it hauled away, never to be missed.  I’d simply start over!

Then reality set in and we began giving things away, putting them on Craig’s List and taking more valuable items to a local auction house. For the things we absolutely couldn’t get rid of, at least for now, and didn’t have room for in the new house, we rented a store-room.  We’d deal with that stuff later once we settled into our new home.

We moved in June and here we are in November still trying to get the last of the boxes unpacked and still giving things away.   I think our son avoids coming over to visit because we’re constantly insisting that he needs and wants whatever it is we’re trying to find a new home for!!  I’m sure our daughter feels lucky that she lives 7 hours away so she can’t come whenever we call to tell her we have some fantastic thingy that would look great in her livingroom.

It has been a difficult process.  Many of the things we’ve hung on to have memories  attached to them. Wanting certain pieces to remain in the family was one of my mother’s greatest wishes when she passed.  I understand.  There are certain things that my husband and I have collected ourselves during our 45 years of marriage that we don’t now have room for but would certainly enjoy revisiting in our children’s homes.

The belongings of loved ones who have passed on are particularly problematic.  We hang on to them so tightly as if to let them go, would render our memories erased clean like a blackboard at the end of a school day.  Both of us shed more than a few tears during the process but have stayed with the project, understanding that we can no longer carry the weight of the material things that we mistakenly believe to be the containers of the past.  I have discovered that with the letting go of things we don’t have room for, memories of life’s glories are still with me and memories of things I thought I had forgotten flow abundantly.

The memories still need a container as our brains age and in this age of technology our heads are already overflowing with too much information.  So it is with this writing  and the sharing of stories,  I am setting up a container for the riches of my life … past memories, things yet to happen, so that my family and I can look back upon them all without having to carry along all of the goods.

The photo above is of my mother in 2001 with my dog Sam. 

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13 Responses to THE BIG PURGE

  1. Ross says:


    I love the name of your blog. Your perspective about building a new rich container to store and share your memories really reasonated with me.


  2. Patricia says:

    Joan, thank you for this blog, you are inspiring me to look at the declutter process too and creating spaciousness.

  3. Zed Zabski says:

    I find, ” … stomach churned like a washing machine tumbling large chunks of concrete and stone.” is a great figure of speech portraying a state of duress I seldom have to experience now. Nonetheless, your image “makes it green” for me. Some discomforts need to stay accessible in memories in order to avoid them. Thank you.

  4. No way Mom… even with the somewhat dangerous threat of being bombarded with more stuff, I still wish we lived closer! 🙂 I’m so happy you’ve found a new home for your words to flow… you are such an amazing writer. Mmmwah! ❤

  5. Jill Davis says:

    OMG…our magnificent God, Joan thanks so much for writing this post. I find it rich!

  6. patti stark says:

    Half of my tiny back porch is full of “stuff” for the thrift shop! Want any?

    It is an act of bravery. You 2 are very brave!

  7. Becca says:

    Joan, it is SO good to read your wonderful writing again! Your thoughts mirror my own in so many ways 🙂

    This has been quite a time of transition for you, and I must admit I envy you this opportunity to “start over,” painful as the process might be sometimes. We are also surrounded by “stuff” which we’ve collected in the 35 years we’ve lived in our house. But as you know, there are many memories attached to these “things,” imbuing them with a life and meaning far more valuable than their net worth on e-bay or Craig’s List. Someday – sooner rather than later – we’ll be facing that winnowing process too.

    I’m so happy you’ve decided to share your stories with us once again 🙂

  8. Sharon says:

    Chill bumps to the bone upon reading your story. I too have been in this process, having laid my mother to rest this past year (I was going to say “lost my mother” but that isn’t true since she lives in my memory and certainly in her “things” which have embodied my space). Anyway, your story resonates at a very personal level and I loved it. Your writing is rich and beautiful.
    I join Lisa in sending you a great big Mmmwah!

  9. jzrart says:

    My thanks to you all for your wonderful comments:

    Ross and Patricia, I learn so much from you both during our biweekly conversations.

    Zed, I think memories of discomfort are as important as our memories of joy because they help us to know where we don’t want to go.

    Lisa and Sharon, Mmmwah right back at you!

    Jill, I hope you find riches in all corners of your life.

    Patti, No, I don’t want any and I think your are pretty brave yourself!!

    Becca, Thanks for your wonderful welcome back into the world of blogs! I have a lot of catching up to do!

    • patti stark says:

      Love the story – wow, what a memory! It reminds me of my big, comfortable green flowered couch and chair that i got about 10 years ago – it is now the world’s MOST expensive cat scratching post! I think it’s fashionable to have all those strings hanging down! You and Bill deserve a program on the History Channel called “The Big Purge”, or at least give lessons, however, I guess that’s what you are doing with this blog! Thanks for the joy of being a part of it!

  10. Allison says:

    I really like your blog. As a fellow packrat, I particularly relate to the de-cluttering process and the fact that I need to do this,to. I’ve started, but the most difficult partings are with things that have sentimental value.

  11. Terry says:

    I particularly enjoyed your memories of your mother. I’m so happy that my beloved cat introduced me to her by running away to her yard the day I moved into my house so that I chased her for fear she’d not know where her new home was.

    “The Purge” gives me resolve that I must part and share things from my grandmother that mean so much to me. I fear that the younger generation won’t appreciate them as I do because they didn’t know her. So I’ll have to impart my memories of her along with the stuff.

    Thank you!

  12. Gail says:

    Joan, you have touched on so many universal themes here that tug at my heart. I have so many inherited pieces of furniture that make me remember those who used them in their daily lives so long ago. Some “advisors” say I should unload the past because it is heavy. But it doesn’t bring me down. I loved the people who passed their things down to me, and I want to remember them. You would not believe how many trips we have made down to Mississippi to bring back an old armoire, a crude cedar chest, a dresser. I am constantly seeking just the right plac e for them. I am not currently downsizing, so I can keep them all now. But will my children care about the pieces? Who knows? I can love them in the present, but the future is not mine to see.

    I am looking forward to your next post. I think having my own blog would bore most people to death, but replying to yours lets me express myself too. Do you have material around about whether it was hard for you to let your grown children go? That’s another difficulty for me.

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