Saturday, January 10, 2009

A few things never to declutter

This is the time of year when I am naturally drawn to sites like and, that preach decluttering, simplifying one's life, etc. Taking down the Christmas decorations and making lists of New Year's resolutions can put a person into a cleaning, sorting, discarding frame of mind that is very useful when applied to things you really don't need or want, like old newspapers (piling up in one of the cell blocks as I write), magazines (piled in the dining room since Thanksgiving awaiting my dear brother's taking them to a doctor's waiting room that supposedly wants them), or outgrown/unwanted but still serviceable clothes (DS grew five inches last year and is picky about what he wears; there's no point leaving the stuff hanging in his closet when someone can use it).

I was interested to read recently that had received some angry mail attributed to the economic downtown. Unfortunately, none of the hostile posts made it onto the site, so I don't know what reason the writers gave, but I imagine it had something to do with the need to conserve all available resources as we go into the Great Depression Part 2. Now, even though I support the principles of decluttering in general, I started thinking about the things I have never been able to get rid of, and thinking that maybe it's not so bad to hold on to certain things that I haven't used in years. Here's my list. Add to it if you want.

1. Scraps of fabric, yarn, and trims: Self-explanatory. Creativity starts with raw materials. The best raw materials are those that don't require a trip to the store.

2. Used clothing in fabrics you love: I have a couple (okay, more than a couple) of outfits made from the most wonderful fabrics--a hand-dyed green and black silk dress with broad shoulders in the size I wore in Bonn in 1987, a tie-dyed raw silk in shades of spring green from my Djibouti years, 1996-99, and a red tartan plaid wool jumper that I wore often in Tbilisi, with bright red platform loafers, to the horror of my chic Georgian colleagues, I am sure. These will not be released to the universe; they will be recycled into something fabulous. Someday.

3. Old sheets, men's shirts, and other woven cottons: I have used all three in my quilt. Items too faded for the quilt get ripped into strips and crocheted into a round rug for DD's round bedroom (take a look at the picture). The rug is thick and heavy and will be impossible to clean, but it makes me happy just to look at it--I see DD sitting on the floor in our sewing room in Tbilisi, her slender shoulders bent over that rug with a big wooden hook, a basket of rag balls nearby. Sheets also are very helpful in protecting floors and furniture during painting, sanding, grinding and other dirty renovation activities, about which I could write a book.

4. Gifts from people I love: I know lots of declutterers will disagree with me on this, but if someone gives me something, I cherish it, especially if it is handmade. It doesn't matter if it isn't something I would have bought or made for myself; the point to me is that by having that item I have a permanent reminder of that person. I still have every outfit my mother made my kids when they were little.

5. Stuff I made in the past: Some years ago, in a fit of clearing space for the new size I had become, I gave away a beautiful pale gray cabled vest in expensive Shetland wool that I knitted while living in Mainz, Germany in 1983/84, and I still regret it. It would look so cute on DD now. Most things I kept, and I even exhibited one (my prom dress) recently. Somehow the word "heirloom" didn't resonate back then the way it does now.
6. Blue and white dishes: They look so pretty; how could I part with a single one? There was a time when I could hardly pass a piece of blue and white English ironstone in an antique store without bringing it home. When we were evacuated from Bangui, for a while it looked as if we might have lost everything, and I wasn't worried a bit about those dishes--I knew I would have a good excuse to shop for more.
The challenge in holding onto too much stuff is finding it. For our last exhibition I wanted to include a table scarf crocheted by my mother's mother, who died before I was born. I searched through box after box, every box in the house, I'm sure, and it never turned up. I'm sure I'll find it when I look for something else, though, and when I do it will be Christmas all over again.

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