Where did I put that wrench?

Columnist Claudette Sandecki on the difficulties of getting rid of stuff

Downsizing catches up to all of us as we age and physical limitations force us to consider moving to premises more easily accessed – on the ground floor, with extra wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, and a minimum of outside chores such as lawn mowing and snow clearing.

Possessions acquired over our lifetime bulge our closets, spill from shelves, and cram our basements.

Boxes and plastic totes hold whatnots we may have forgotten we own, seldom or never have call for, and would need hours and assistance to locate if we did.

Having listened to elderly aunts speak of their efforts to divest themselves of surplus possessions so surviving grandchildren wouldn’t face hours of sorting and disposing of their stuff after they moved into a nursing home or passed on, I long since began surreptitiously passing on  to a relative anything they wanted or could use that I no longer needed or had several of.

A 10-year-old doing well in piano lessons eyed my 48-bass piano accordion.

I gladly offered it to her. Her brother, gaining skill with fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, returned home carrying the guitar I bought when I was 26 but never learned to play beyond a few basic chords.

In recent years I’ve given away books (though not my absolute favourites; they bring me joy just lined up in a bookcase); and less memorable items that nonetheless filled a niche for the recipient.

Deciding what and when to weed out is far more stressful than a dispassionate observer might fathom.

If you’ve watched one or more programs of the Hoarder TV series, you know how people dither over what to part with, torn by an unspoken litany of what ifs.

What if I may need this item tomorrow or in a week? I’ll have to go out and buy a replacement. What if the person who gave it to me finds out I gave it away or threw it out? Will they be angry with me?

They may start the program climbing over a mountain of varied stuff from new clothing with price tags still attached to rotten food, smelly garbage, and totally useless, broken furniture or dishes.

At the end of the day, even with professional help, they’ve sorted out an armful of things they can bear to part with, but have found excuses for hanging on to all the rest, no matter how useless it might be to them.

One way to speedily downsize is to hear a news bulletin warning a forest fire is approaching, be prepared to evacuate with only two hours notice. Most people seize documents like birth and marriage certificates, family photos, medications, youngsters’ stuffed teddy bears.

When my neighbourhood was alerted to an approaching forest fire several years back, I  listed essentials I should take.

Had we been ordered to leave, I would have had necessities. Fortunately, the fire never got closer than two miles.

Professional organizers suggest if you haven’t used an item in two years, chances are you never will. This may hold for clothing, never tools.

It’s been my experience, not a week later I’ll wish I had the wrench, must then go out and buy another. But at least I didn’t buy a replacement because my original was buried or “lost” among clutter.

I understand the anxiety of downsizing and parting with possessions.

Sorting anxiety slows me from hauling even recycling to the curb.

And to pare my closet? Paralyzes me. The winter jacket in perfect condition I outgrew seven years ago? I might fit into it again. Don’t laugh; it could happen, couldn’t it?