Layers of Life by Diane Marquette

"Simplify, simplify" - Henry David Thoreau

There are few things in life more daunting than moving. Transporting every single thing you own to another location is both physically and emotionally draining.  And not just moving it, but sorting, purging, packing, hauling, and unpacking it.  Show me one person who hasn't sworn "Never again!" even before the moving van arrives.

When faced with this monumental task several months ago, I began the purging/sorting/packing exercise in the attic.  I had performed the same chore prior to the last move six years earlier, so I really hadn't accumulated all that much -- or so I thought.  I scanned the shelves.  I knew what most of the boxes held, but a few were going to be surprises.  

Did I really need to go through it all now?  Why not just wait until after we moved?  No, it had to be now!  I reminded myself of my mission.  My goal was to simplify my life.  To streamline my possessions.  To only keep what was useful or had special meaning.  I vowed to be ruthless.  I was not going to pay someone to haul items I no longer used or needed to another location where they would only become "clutter".  Clutter was taking up space and energy and it was time to let it go.  I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders.  I approached the shelves.

My shoulders slumped quickly when the first large box I opened revealed thirty years worth of Kodak slides.  Three decades of vacations and family gatherings and weddings and gardens.  Did I need to keep them all?  Certainly some could be discarded?  I seemed to remember our slide projector didn't even work anymore.  And where was the large screen to show them on?  Finally, I calculated what the chances would be that someone might ask to see slides of the business trip we took to Portland, Oregon in 1978.  Pretty slim.  Maybe I could safely discard those.  

I placed the Portland slides in a spot I designated the "Discard" pile.  I dug out more Kodak stacks from the box, and soon joining the Portland slides were slides of Kansas City, Phoenix, and Chicago.  Then my progress ground to a halt.  The Grand Canyon?  Disneyland?  Hawaii?  How could I throw those slides away?  Chances are we'd never get back to those places again (besides, the Grand Canyon really doesn't change all that much), so I decided to keep those.  And how could I get rid of any slides of family members?  They're irreplaceable - both the slides and the people.  Now I started a new pile I called "Keep".

Encouraged a bit by my progress, I moved on to the photo albums.  After the novelty of taking thousands of slides wore off, I took photographs.  Photos of family members, pets, flowerbeds, wildlife, Christmas decorations, and more vacations.   Anything that didn't get up and walk away got photographed.  Most of these photos had found their way into a dozen or so albums -- but what about the box of rejects - overexposures, the backs of people's heads, or people with their eyes closed?  Into the "Discard" pile they went.  I congratulated myself that the size of this pile was growing considerably.

The next few shelves reveled torn lampshades, broken dishes, and picture frames with cracked glass, all waiting for the promised repairs.  I decided to save them - we might need them in the new house.  So they were put into a new pile I named "Keep, But Needs Attention".  

I came across old golf clubs (you never know), a bag of found golf balls (they were free, after all), partial rolls of wallpaper (for lining drawers someday?), and some unused curtains and chair pads (for the new house?) that I decided might be wise to "Keep", so they stayed.  The attachments to a vacuum cleaner I no longer owned, and an umbrella without a handle went into the "Discard" pile.  What progress!

Was that the phone ringing?  I sprinted to the den, snatching the receiver just as I heard a loud click.  Since I had been interrupted anyway, I figured I might as well eat lunch.  And check the weather forecast.  And fold the towels in the dryer.  And get the mail.  And empty the dishwasher.

Back in the attic a few hours later, I found my enthusiasm for the project had diminished considerably.  I scanned the next shelf.  Two unmarked medium boxes.  I had no guess what they could be.  As I set one on the floor, I saw the writing on its hidden side - "Souvenirs".  Oh, no.  These were irreplaceable bits and pieces my past, and they had absolutely no meaning to anyone else in the world.  Could I discard any of these items?  I had kept them for so many years already.  Did I really want to hang on to all these tidbits and morsels and force some loved one to wade through them after I was gone?  You bet.

I spent about an hour looking my high school yearbooks, and of course, regretted doing so.  My mental pictures of high school life were much happier than the actual black and white versions.  Another instance of "should have left well enough alone".   As I dug out more souvenirs from the box, I smiled at the memories brought back by some, and felt saddened when I saw others.  Withered flowers, secret notes, special cards, Chinese fortunes, newspaper clippings - all so much a part of my past and the reason I'm the person I am today.  I definitely had to keep everything in these boxes, so I repacked them and set them on the shelves.

The ringing phone brought me back to the present, but I was no quicker this time, and heard a dial tone on the other end.  A knock at the front door further detoured me from my project.  After chatting with the UPS man for a while, I returned to my chore, less motivated than ever.

Just a few boxes left.  The next box contained unfinished craft projects, which I decided to keep - they had interested me at one point, maybe I'd finish some of them up some snowy weekend.  The rest of the boxes contained Christmas decorations.  No one could possibly expect me to sort through holiday decorations in September.  That was something I'd definitely wait to do until after we moved.  

I studied the "Discard" pile.  It had not grown at all in the last few hours, and I had been off to such a good start!  It was hardly enough to throw away.  But as I loaded the items into the trash bag, I thought about all the layers of my life that I had just excavated in the past few hours.  None of it was "clutter".  Just because it was not something I used or thought about every day, didn't mean it wasn't an important part of my life.  The lesson here:  if it's important enough to keep, pack it neatly, label it clearly, and no one will ever mistake the layers of your life for clutter.