Let It Goooooo! Let It Gooooo!
I’d ask you how you’re doing, and make some funny, quippy remark about sheltering in place here at the Kemp House, but after everything that’s happened in Washington DC over the past few days, I’m just going to offer a big cyber elbow bump for making it through this weekend. Watching history unfold in real time is grueling. My anxiety level has been on high alert since Tuesday.
Which leads me to the point of this blog post. The unexpected relief of letting your sentimental, but rarely to never used things go.
Here’s the story.
A group of friends and I participated in a letter writing campaign for the organization Vote Forward. Unlike handwriting postcards with different colored markers, this was simply stuffing a prewritten letter into an envelope and sending those letters to sporadically voting Democrats in targeted states, asking them to vote because their vote matters. My friends and I sent out 300 letters to voters in Texas in the general election. Although we didn't flip Texas, Biden won the national election and that helped soften the loss. We were then asked to send letters to Georgia for the senate runoff. My group upped our numbers and sent out 500 letters in about 24 hours. I even added a little flair by attaching a goofy sticker to the front of the envelope. It felt good to do my part for this vital election.
On the evening of Tuesday, January 5th, 2021, as soon as the polling numbers started coming in, my anxiety shot up. The stakes were high! I was glued to my TV, but becoming increasingly antsy. I needed to do something mindless, keep myself occupied. So I decided to keep the TV on and clean the closet in my living room that has my china and serving pieces. I was simply going to take stuff off the shelves, set them on the dining room table, wipe the shelves down, and put the stuff back. Easy peasy.
But a funny thing happens the moment you relocate items to a neutral location. You look at them differently. I know this because I use this technique with clients all the time. Nonetheless, I was surprised by my reluctance to put some of my things back in as I hadn’t I'd declutter, only clean.
The pieces in question were mostly entertaining pieces from three generations of my family. I finished cleaning the closet, reloaded the keepers, and left the items I wasn't so sure about on the dining room table.
Wednesday morning, as I was sipping my coffee, I looked over the items that were still on my dining room table. And I made some sensible observations. These were all beautiful things I've never used once in the almost 13 years we've lived in our home.
There was a mismatched assembly of white and gold rimmed china. I assume it was originally my great grandmother’s and given to my grandmother who probably broke a few pieces and added similar patterns. My mom always used her set of simple white china which, side bonus, is dishwasher safe, and that is the good china I use and prefer.
But when I saw all those plates with the gold rims glinting in the morning sunlight, I admit I had second thoughts. So I immediately texted my three nieces with a photo of the china and offered it to them with my most enthusiastic pitch. “Hey Ladies! Who wants this beautiful china???” Each niece politely declined, the best response being from my niece Kyle who wrote “No thanks. I’m good in the plate department.” You’ve gotta love millennials. They are the antithesis of hoarders. I debated keeping the china simply because it is so pretty, but again I resisted putting it back. In all the years I’ve entertained I told myself - and I’ve entertained a lot - I’ve never once used that china. As painful as it was, I was going to have to pass.
There were 10 small coffee cups and matching saucers that matched my white china. I will never make coffee for 10. And if I did, it would be big mugs. Even though they matched my set, I knew they were a waste of space. This was a slightly easier pass.
There were several little plate and bowl sets that I think had been used for candy and nuts, to be set on bridge tables. My great grandmother, grandmother, and aunt all hosted bridge parties and I remember these small dishes and bowls being used. I, on the other hand, never learned to play bridge and don’t have any intention of learning. I do however play Mah Jongg, but that game takes up the whole table. There’s no room for anything on a Mah Jongg table except racks and tiles. Plus, the way my friends and I play Mah Jongg is almost a contact sport and I can imagine any one of us unintentionally breaking every single bowl and plate. This felt like a humanitarian pass.
There were tiny, delightfully rainbow colored cordial glasses with beautiful twisted stems. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a cordial in my life. And if I did, I’d probably want more than a thimbleful. And these little glasses were so light and fragile I almost broke them four times in the course of an hour. Again, humanitarian pass.
The best was a small depression glass pedestal vessel that was surrounded by four tiny pedestal vessels. I remember being about 12 when my mother found it in her china cabinet, She remembered it being a gift to her mother. Apparently my grandmother didn’t know what to do with this set because she never used it. And neither did my mother, and neither did I. Let that sink in. This sweet but useless gift was passed down and kept for over 60-plus years simply because it was kind of pretty! Once I saw that I had an opportunity to break free from that crazy family legacy it was an easy pass!
Now that I was clear about what I was giving away and why, I had to choose my venue to get everything out of my house. I’d already looked all the hallmarks up and nothing was worth the effort of selling, so I decided to go with my local Buy Nothing group. As I wrote in my last blog post, I’ve doled out many of my clients castoffs through this venue. Not only is it a successful way to divest, It is also kind of fun! As I always say, every pot has its lid. I get a kick out of putting them together!
I listed my first item as “Gifting on simmer” which means I was giving myself at least 24 hours to choose a recipient. I figured I’d make it fun by beginning each description with “Fancy Things!” I then told the brief, humorous history of the item, added photos, and, for the glass items, suggested they run it through the dishwasher when they got home. Ain’t nobody got time for hand washing when you’re giving cute stuff away!
First up was the rejected-by-my-nieces china. It got many Likes and Hearts and a few Wow! faces, but no nibbles. China is notoriously difficult to sell, and I began to worry that it was going to be equally as difficult to give it away! After four hours one sweet woman piped up and asked that she be considered. Then a second, and by the end of the day I had four interested parties.
In between watching the travesty that was occurring in our nation's capital, I listed items and monitored the responses. People were liking and commenting like crazy. The best comments were for the unused gift that had been passed down through my family for over 60 years. People were coming up with some very creative guesses as to the item’s original purpose. No one could figure it out, but everyone agreed that was pretty.
By the next day, everything had found a new, worthy home. The china went to a woman who said “Wow wow wow wow wow! I would love to be considered!” Her enthusiasm immediately made me excited! The dishes are now in a new dining room where they are now proudly displayed. A floral and gold candy dish is now being used to contain a woman’s precious heirloom rosary. The coffee cups and saucers went to a woman who misses hosting her large extended family. They now symbolize better times to come. The cordial glasses went to a dear friend from my son’s Jewish day school who made a future date with me to enjoy a cordial with her once the pandemic is over. That same friend also took the unused gift. She vowed she’d break the curse and put it to good use. I wished her Godspeed.
Here’s my takeaway from this experience. Seeing that people were excited to have my sentimental items definitely helped lessen the sting of letting go. Each never used thing deserved to be treasured, not just possessed, shut away in a cupboard or cabinet.
And when everything was picked up by the lucky recipients, not only was I happy, I was surprisingly relieved. This pretty clutter had become a burden, albeit barely perceptible, but a burden nonetheless.
I wonder what your reaction to this story is? Giving away sentimental stuff is a hot topic and I'm sure you have opinions. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!