For the last 2 years I’ve had a huge personal goal: down size to half the size of the house I live in (or less). Actually, it all started about 6 years ago, when I decided I would be letting go of half of my belongings.
Books and clothes were easy; I got stalled on furniture and mementos, especially anything associated with family. All my Mom had to say was, “It was your grandmother’s,” and I’d move whatever it was from her dwindling attic to my overstuffed one.
Then I found the decluttering phenomenon, Marie Kondo and the KonMari method, outlined in her best-selling book, Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of Decluttering. Get the book through my affiliate link, HERE.
And I started my downsizing odyssey in earnest.
The basic principle of tidying up is so simple, “Ask of every single object, Does this bring me joy?”. But, oh my goodness was it revolutionary for me.
Turns out I was holding on to things for LOTS of other reasons than joy.
Take my Aunt Millie’s bedroom set.
Please, TAKE MY AUNT MILLIE’S BEDROOM SET.
It’s quite lovely, really. Cherry Wood. Four drawer dresser with a beautiful mirror and bed frame with 4 posts and a nice height head board. It’s been mine for more than twenty years before it was hers for 30 years. And that’s part of the problem.
Let me explain.
Aunt Millie (born Carmella, from my Italian-on-all-sides paternal side of the family) was born in 1892 and crossed over with her family to live in Little Italy in New York City. They had very little. She married Uncle Nick, a baker, and they weren’t blessed with any children that lived. Aunt Millie was my great aunt, my grandmother’s sister. Since grandmother Anna had died before I was born, Millie was the closest thing to a grandmother to me and I a granddaughter to her.
For as long as I can remember, I’m talking from 5 or 6 years old, when we would visit Aunt Millie and Uncle Nick, who were in their late 60s when I was born, Aunt Millie would take me into their tiny bedroom in their small flat and say, “Annie, when I die, this bedroom set will be yours.”
I remember two things about hearing this, both of which I never breathed to a living soul:
1. I was afraid this meant I was going to have to actually be with Aunt Millie when she died, the thought of which made me shudder.
2. I didn’t like the bedroom set.
OK, I was 5 or 6 or 9 or 12, so what did I know? Well, I knew it wasn’t the bed I’d pick out for myself if I had a choice. Except I didn’t think I had a choice. I mean, the woman was going to die to give it to me! And then Aunt Millie died at exactly the time I needed the furniture; just when I was getting my first apartment after college. And it gave an elegant flare to my tiny hovel. I was very grateful and it’s been my bedroom set ever since. No questions asked.
Does this bedroom set bring me joy? Well, it’s really functional and comfortable and familiar. It’s handsome. But joy? No, not so much.
The question of a bed frame came up with my fiancé (Did I mention I’m engaged?… So much has happened in recent months, it may have slipped my mind to tell you…) Anyway, the question of a bed frame came up because I’ve been in the process of actually building the smaller space I’ve dreamed about living in and we talked about bedroom furniture.
Finally, after over 50 years, I first realized and then came clean about my feelings about the bedroom set. And I admitted I had really always wanted a cast iron bed frame but never felt justified in getting one because Aunt Millie had made a special point of willing me her set.
Turns out my fiancé (OK, it’s really fun to say that) said HE’D always wanted an iron bed frame, too. So, guess what? We found the most beautiful frame in an antique store in Maine and we’re having it gently sandblasted and maybe painted, but we’re not sure yet.
And you know what else? I can still love and honor my Aunt Mille for her generosity, keep some other things she gave me that give me great joy, and let go of that bedroom set, now a true antique, to someone who will cherish and love it and make it their family heirloom.
There may actually be no big lesson in this story for you. It’s just a bed frame, after all. But to me, the process of letting go and creating a new tradition means so much. It means I can create the life I want. It means I get to decide how to honor my past. And it means I can let go of what no longer serves me and embrace something new in a way that feels authentic and true.
Congratulations on your engagement, Annie! I am so happy for you. This post is very timely because I have decided to declutter and clear out my BIG OLD HOUSE, but am feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to get started. Can’t wait to get this book for guidance. Best wishes to you and your fiance.
Thank you for your good wishes, Alice! Let me know if you need helping making a plan, it is so worth it. Lightens everything!
Annie, thank you so much for sharing this! I, too, have embarked upon the KonMarie method and have since gotten sidetracked. It is overwhelming to have all that stuff that you feel obligated to keep and also so overwhelming to have to actually go through it all! But so, so freeing to finally let go of what no longer serves you. Thank you for reminding me and re-inspiring me to lighten my load!
April, we have so many things to pull us away from this important process, and so many stories about our stuff. I have to continually circle back around and doing another layer of letting go, on all levels. Glad you are re-inspired, that inspires me!