Tip #147: Check your sentimentality.
Here’s a short list of the things that I’ve decided to part with in the past month or so:
+ A mirror. (Sold).
+ A rug. (Sold).
+ Three canvas tote bags. (Stooped.*)
+ A vintage printer’s drawer. (Stooped.)
In addition to my usual flurry of seasonal shifting about, we’ve been making a few changes around here in anticipation of another human entering the scene. In the midst of this shifting, I’ve been reminded time and again that one of the keys to making this small space feel livable is to keep my sentimentality in check. Sure, I’ve worked hard to make sure that everything in here has a story, but some of those stories—and their accompanying objects—have more value than others. And to paraphrase an anecdote I recount in my book, the story can stay, even if the object itself doesn’t. I don’t think there’s inherent value in purging, but I do think there’s value in purging when the object in question is taking up space that might be otherwise more useable.
Why the purge, you ask? Parting with each of these things has opened up space for something else: Selling the mirror meant being able to showcase a different, more favorite, mirror that had been hidden behind a dresser since we moved our bed out of the bedroom last fall. Selling the rug opened up storage space in Faye’s room. Parting with canvas bags maintained my sanity (how do they get in here in the first place?). And getting rid of the printer’s drawer meant being able to move James’s surfboard out of Faye’s room.
Why the sentimentality? Let’s take the
printer’s drawer typecase (editor’s note: update to reflect the proper terminology as identified by those in the know) as an example. When I was 24 and living in North Carolina, my friend Mandy and I went to a local flea market where an incredible abundance of treasures were waiting for us: rotary telephones, transistor radios, colorful tin cans with branding from the last century. Some of those things were useful, some of them not so much. I walked away from most of it, but I brought home a vintage printer’s drawer because I found it to be irresistible and because, I figured, it would be a helpful place to stash my earrings. In the ensuing years, we’ve found a place for the tray to live in four of our apartments. It’s held earrings in two, sat mostly empty in one (save for a few beachy finds), and most recently it’s been a stashing spot for paperclips and safety pins and spare keys. But the honest truth is that it’s also caught an enormous amount of dust and its shallow and very small compartments have often proved too small, even for the tiniest objects. (It was, without a doubt, a drawer for lowercase letters.) Lately, a certain toddler’s proclivity for thundering around the place has caused various pins and clips to be sent scattering along the floor on a regular basis. Still, despite the debatable usefulness, I’ve held on to it. In part because it reminds me of the hot spring day in that hot southern city where James and I first learned to live together.
But the more I considered the drawer, the more I realized that the object itself wasn’t really terribly important but that the space I’d gain by passing it along to someone else would be. When we decided to move James’s surfboard out of Faye’s room, the only wall we had for it to lean against was the one where we’d previously hung the drawer. I took down the drawer and slid it against a different wall until I decided I could just to let it go. We staged a small farewell ceremony (just kidding) and bid her adieu. The truth is that whether someone else puts it to inventive use or burns it as firewood or sells it at a premium to a sucker at a city flea market, is really neither here nor there, but that it’s opened up a corner of Faye’s room and given us a new spot to keep James’s surfboard has been just exactly what this tiny apartment needed.
So, here’s some encouragement to practice a little letting go if it’ll do you good.
PS. I’ve got a whole chapter on dealing with clutter and family heirlooms and other objects that just get complicated in Simple Matters…just in case you missed it.
*A verb I made up meaning to leave something behind on a New York City stoop with the knowledge that someone else will come along and make it theirs.
Tiny apartment survival tips #1-146, RIGHT HERE.