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olivia unstuffed – month twelve

February 25, 2011

olivia’s last entry:


Solving one problem can sometimes lead to a whole new one. My problem was living in Spain. I solved it by returning to Montreal. It led a new problem: realizing I’m a hoarder.

While I was in Europe, I had a subletter who agreed to occupy my fully furnished apartment, but wasn’t interested in any of my…stuff. So I had to pack it up and store it in the basement for the year. The process caused a few conflicts between my husband and I. He wanted me to get rid of stuff, and even when I did, it didn’t seem to make a dent. So our basement was turned into a depot with barely enough room to make a path from the stairway to the dryer. I wasn’t even careful about how I packed. And I especially gave no thought to how arduous it would be to unpack it all a year later.

As we migrated from Florida to Ireland, England and eventually Spain, I kept shedding stuff that was in the suitcase. Flights within Europe are as cheap as you’ve heard, but they come with severe baggage restrictions. We had to shell out about $200 for the “extra weight” I was carrying from Dublin to London. My husband scowled at me when I said, “I told you I couldn’t pack light!”

In Spain, I lived with the same set of clothes for many months. I wore the same 6 outfits, and often. I ran out of clothes quickly and would struggle to coordinate an efficient laundry schedule with my husband, who always seemed to need clean garments at the same time as me.

I got used to a limited wardrobe and it didn’t bother me. So when I looked at the clothing stuffed in a bunch of boxes upon my return to Montreal, I had a whole new perspective. What was I doing with all of it? When would I wear it? How did I acquire so many things that I can’t even stand to look at now?

I lived with next to nothing for a year. It’s what I got used to, and the boxes were just weighing me down now. I even injured my back schlepping them from the basement to the main floor.

Over the years, I’d held on to the silliest things for even sillier reasons. Just in case costumes. Just in case I want to finish this scrapbook. Just in case I’ll need this beautiful box one day. Just in case I want to use this toy I haven’t used since I was 7. Just in case I fit into those jeans again. Just in case I read this book. Just in case I have kids who are curious about ‘80s sticker albums. Just in case this junk has any value to someone other than myself.

After a year, the “just in case” rationale seemed ridiculous and increasingly difficult to vindicate. I took a cutthroat approach. Do I use it often? Yes: I keep it. No: I either give it away to charity or chuck it.

In all, I filled two large garbage bags with stuff even hobos wouldn’t want, and gave away two full car loads of clothing, books and…more stuff…to a charitable organization.

A week later, I had a homecoming party. I’d unpacked all the boxes and placed everything back. My house was in order, and with the purge, a little bare. One of my guests remarked, “So you’re still unpacking, right?” “No, I’m done,” I told him. “Really?” he said. “Where’s all your stuff?”

The stuff occupied a lot of physical space in our home. Now that it’s gone, I don’t even remember what a lot of it was, and I certainly can’t recall why I wanted to keep it in the first place.

If it turns out that I miss any of it, I’ll replace it. Most things are replaceable. Especially when it’s just stuff.

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