Decluttering: A Sentimental Story

October 26, 2016

 

I have a confession to make. I've held onto boxes and boxes of my kids' baby clothes for 9 years. Now for someone who is a self-proclaimed "neat-freak" (refer to my Instagram/Twitter accounts), I have not been very neat. And some may even define my baby-clothes attachment as freaky (although I would prefer they chose a nicer word - this is a family blog!). Today I thought I would share my journey of hoarding said clothes, and why (and how) I was able to eventually declutter 90% of these boxes to one small suitcase. 

 

There are two reasons why I kept all these clothes:

 

1. I knew they would come to good use when I had my second daughter. Heck, she's six and she STILL wears hand-me-downs from her older sister. Rambling story warning ahead: The other day when my family came over, my younger one Jana, was wearing her older sister's top that read "Big Sister". This of course, invited the inevitable questions: "Oh my goodness, are you pregnant?" followed closely by "What a cute way to announce it! Yay!". Then the anticlimax: "When are you having another baby?" and "Aww, we got excited for nothing." Thanks fam, you're awesome (eye roll). Moral of the story: don't lead your family on. They don't like that. 

 

2. I have a very strong sentimental attachment to these itty bitty baby clothes, so you can imagine the difficulty I had trying to declutter them. I remember what my girls looked like, and how old they were wearing them -  so small, so sweet, oh-so-heart-burstingly-cuddly. I felt like getting rid of their clothes was akin to erasing those tiny moments in their lives I could never get back. The memories the camera never captured. The memories I could only conjure up in my mind when I saw something that reminded me I still have them. I probably sound super cheesy and over-obsessed but even writing about it now, I feel a tug on my heart.

 

However, sentimentality does not function make. (Ha! I just made that up. That phrase belongs on a bumper sticker! Alright, I'm done patting myself on the back).

 

My guest bedroom closet, where I stored all these clothes, was getting awfully cramped and became basically unusable for guests who stayed in the room. I had to decide it was time to let go. In an effort to motivate myself I looked up an audio version of a very popular organizing book called, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. By Marie Kondoon Youtube; rolled up my sleeves, and told myself not to overthink it. 

 

 

Ms. Kondo's premise is to surround yourself only with the things you truly love, and that bring you joy. You must touch each item with your hands and ask yourself if this item you're holding fulfills it's purpose of bringing joy to your life. (If you want a full book review of Ms. Kondo's book, leave a comment below and I'll be sure to do one!) And if this item doesn't bring you joy or you don't need it anymore, you should thank it for its service (yes, really) and discard it. Now that I had my game plan, I was ready.

 

The first few bags marked "0-3 months" and "3-6 months" were easy. (Yes, they were labeled, as is everything else in my life.) They were mostly onesies, sleep and play outfits, socks, bibs and other basics. Toss. Toss. Toss. I was doing it! This wasn't so bad!

 

Then I got to the older months. The bags marked "6-9 mo." and "9-12 mo." was a whole different can of worms. These were the sitting-crawling-standing months; the babbling-that-leads-to-words months; the months where your baby's personality starts to shine through. At this point I found myself holding up little sweaters and hats and experiencing flashbacks. "Oh I remember this!" I'd shout at no one. Then, because Ms. Kondo was playing through my computer, I realized I had to decide whether to keep that tiny sweater or fuzzy hat, or get rid of it ... So I started a new pile: things I loved but felt too attached to get rid of. They needed another look and I would get back to them later.

 

I didn't want to lose my stride so I kept moving along, opening and dumping out bag after bag of memories, scents, and stains. They're all important to a mother. They define the essence of those new months - the sleepless nights, the crying (you and your baby), the screaming (again, you and your baby), the milestones; the sweetness of it all. Right about when this realization hit is when the waterworks started. I was alone in the bedroom with no one watching, pawing through piles of baby clothes that my kids had outgrown, and I cried freely. They were bittersweet tears full of acknowledgement of just how much my girls had grown. 

After going through the eighth or ninth bag, I was starting to realize these clothes could mean as much to someone else as they did to me. This was another "Aha!" moment and it truly transformed this whole project from being sad and painful to a cause for good.

 

There are many organizations (local and national) that donate gently used clothing to low-income new moms and families. I knew this, of course. I had already planned that I would be donating everything I was not keeping, save the truly unusable items marred by stains or torn. But it didn't occur to me until then that another mother and child would find comfort and warmth by the same clothes that gave comfort and warmth to my girls and I. This mindset switch was so needed at this point of my declutter. It was like the moment college-going Andy realizes his childhood toys could be given love and a new home with little Bonnie, in the movie Toy Story 3 (I haven't seen a grown-up movie in forever okay? Don't judge me). 

 

From here, I kind of went into overdrive. I felt guilty for holding onto unused clothes for so many years when they could have gone to kids who really needed them, and I was determined to make up for lost time. 

 

When I was done with the guest room closet I fervently tackled my kids' closet, the hallway closet, and then finally my closet, looking for donatable items. I took out everything that wasn't worn, rarely worn, or unloved. Everything got bagged, labeled, and loaded up for donation. Altogether, this project took me 15 hours (!!!) or 3 days, and resulted in almost 30 bags of clothes, shoes, purses, toys, home decor items, and hijabs (!!!!).

 

That was another eye-opener: We had so much stuff! Through university, two kids, four moves, and 5 jobs - altogether 10 years - we had been lugging around our unloveable items throughout each milestone like so many metaphorical sacks of bricks. All these years, I thought I was decluttering and reorganizing but all I was doing was moving one pile of unused stuff to another, and those piles accumulated dramatically over the years.

 

 

After all was said and done, I was able to declutter 90% of my kids' old baby clothes, and about 30% of the clothes hanging in our closets. Additionally, I got rid of 4 trash bags-full of home decor and miscellaneous items. That's a huge accomplishment! I kept a few precious items that I couldn't bear to part with and put them into a small suitcase in the corner of the closet. Because I've done much of the bulk work already, I don't plan on decluttering like this again anytime soon. But every couple months, I make sure my family and I go through our closets for things we don't wear anymore and throw them into large bags for donation delivery. It's kept our closets roomy, and keeps our well-loved items well-worn. 

 

This declutter project was hard, both physically and emotionally, but it was also unexpectedly freeing. Ms. Kondo says in her book that one of the ways to show love for something is to let it go. The phrase has been coined by philosophers of the past as a morsel of truth to ease the pain of saying goodbye. And as true as it is for people, the same can be said for our belongings. 

 

 

I've learned something from this experience: I've made a decision to be content with what I have, to give what I do not need, to love what belongs to me, and to always prefer less than to want more. With this in mind, I'm preparing myself for my next declutter project. 

 

Happy Organizing!

Sumaiya

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