My Stuff on Trial (Or: The Joy of Letting Go)

What I learned coming into 2011: I have separation anxiety about everything!

Last month, my brother and sister-in-law visited for a weekend, right before Christmas. Omar barely took two steps into my apartment (which he hasn’t been in since 2004) and said, “Yeah, you have to get rid of some of this stuff. You’re a hoarder.” I was mortified.

Prior to his arrival, I had asked him to come prepared to give me his honest opinion about my apartment once he arrived at my place. Don’t know what triggered that solicitation, but I knew that I trusted him and that he would be honest…brutally so. But how, on God’s green earth, could he call me a hoarder?

“I’m nothing like the people on the TV! Have you seen that show? Are you calling me one of them? ” I asked arrogantly.

I was in total shock because, in fact, I am neat, organized, not messy, and definitely not filthy! Feeling attacked, I went on to argue about how orderly my space is; that my office and my home are one in the same. I have simply out-grown the apartment. Things would look quite differently once I separate home and office.

But Omar said I sounded like an alcoholic presenting the case of not being a “sloppy, non-functional alcoholic.” He went on to ask, as he eyed the bottom shelf of one of my book cases, “What are you doing with those telephone logs from 1993?” I had a sound reason so I explained and he actually sided with me. But though I was relived, I couldn’t deny the fact that perhaps I was holding on to too much stuff. For the first time, I was beginning to see a larger issue.

So I allowed myself to be picked at by Omar and Maria (my sister-in-law). It was surreal. I felt like a rat in a maze: There was hardly a place to escape. For nearly every rationalization, excuse, and reason that I offered as to why, for example, I had so many books (five floor-to-ceiling bookcases…and that’s just in the living room), I got trumped. They did, however, cut me some slack on the nostalgic items. When I proudly showed them the outfits that Omar and I were baptized in as babies, my mother’s purse from her wedding day, and a baseball glove from Omar’s pre-teen era, they conceded. “Sentimental things make sense to keep, but most of this stuff is not sentimental, April.” I went on to explain that it was important to me to save items that represent various eras of my life…from childhood to now. “Why is it not okay to save a few things like that?” I pleaded. They didn’t argue that point, but they did ask “When was the last time you watched any of these videos in your media cabinet? And do you even own a record player for all this vinyl over here in the corner? And, again…why do you have some many books?” Few people can relate to my love of books.

I began to look at my apartment through a “stranger’s” eye. I do have stacks of media (Cd’s, DVDs, those VHS tapes, cassette tapes and even one or two 8-tracks…just for the fun of it). My rationale was air tight, I thought. I work in communications. I’m naturally going to have more media than the average person.

“Then why haven’t you made a digital conversion? Why don’t you have an e-reader? ” they asked. My logical (?) response: “I simply haven’t gotten around to that yet, but that doesn’t mean that I need to throw it all away…right?”

No matter where I scurried, I was losing this tug-of-war. When they asked why wasn’t this “stuff” in storage, I said that I don’t want that expense. As small business owner, I have better uses of my hard earned money. I’d rather neatly organize and store items in my apartment until such time that I can afford to pay rent on a space that’s not generating income.

So my brother offered a solution: “Whatever you can pack up, we’ll store in our basement and it won’t cost you. We have more than enough space.” To his surprise, I had two boxes ready to go the next morning. A few weeks later, I had four more boxes ready to ship. I have come to admit that all this stuff is more than I need.

Since Omar and Maria’s pricking, I have been examining my behavior like a mad woman. My issues are glaring and I’m feeling quite naked during this first week of 2011. I have control and trust issues, my need to be self-reliant and always prepared is a tad abnormal (at this very moment, for example, my make up bag has everything in it from safety pins to mouthwash), and I have an obsession with “not letting go.” For me, its tantamount to betraying the past (and if you know my work as an activist, then perhaps you can appreciate the symbolism here).

So today, I paused from work to confront my magazine collection that has been stacked in my closet since 1992 or so. I can’t fully explain why I have so many issues of Essence, Ebony, Vibe, The Source, Black Enterprise, American Legacy, Black Scholar, and other magazines. Nor can I explain what I’m going to do with the vintage comic books that I have neatly stored in the other closet. Whatever the reasons, I’m examining them all…and letting go. Over the years, I have rationalized that I need these magazines, and books, and phone logs to document my journeys, to recall our culture, to re-visit important past stories – in my personal life and in my community. I have rationalized that, as a writer, I need to be able to reference this media content for all the books that I’ll someday write.

Wow. I heard myself, in that moment, explain this to myself and all I could say was “Wow! You, old gurl, are a coward.” I can now admit that I’m probably the neatest hoarder there is, but a hoarder nonetheless. I don’t know if I would have come to that realization if it were not for the unintended intervention from my family and an episode of “Enough Already! with Peter Walsh” that I watched today on OWN. Kind of freaked me out.

Now my ‘not wanting to let go’ has come to symbolize all the blockage in my life, all the things that are not growing creatively, not growing in my love life, and not growing in my business. So I’m excited at the shedding that will take place this year. I can’t think of a better way to blossom.

4 thoughts on “My Stuff on Trial (Or: The Joy of Letting Go)”

  1. i am happy my bluntness found a useful target opposed to the bothersome target it is known to find on people. you are not just a writer, you are a historian and for that reason i understand the reason for keeping some of the "stuff" you have (but really the Hami yearbooks, and football jersey). because i understand the reason you have held on to so much stuff, i will store it for you with the importance and reverence i have for you. lastly, i think once you give yourself some room by putting your "stuff" in a different context you will be amazed at what can happen in that space.

  2. Nicely said April…it will be a truely cleansing experience for your mind, body and soul. Glad we could help.

  3. Wow, great post, never read your blog before.

    We have a lot in common – except 14 months ago I had to emigrate to the US, so I went through the HARSH process of picking an old family heirloom chest, placing a cull of my most valued posessions in it…

    And then opened my house up for 2 weeks to my friends to come take stuff. It was at first horrifying, then absolutely liberating. Since I moved here I have a totally different perspective on "stuff" and try and not keep it at all.

    Good luck whatever way this works for you, so much familiar stuff in that post!

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