Recycling and Assigning Value

I’ve been decluttering the last few days. I don’t feel like my house is overly full, but somehow we regularly end up with a box for the thrift store and books to drop in little libraries and a pile of things that need to be disposed of properly. It really adds to the list of errands that we need to run and while I get quite the sense of satisfaction from it, my kids do not always enjoy the extra stops. Especially when it’s six degrees outside.

I have three stacks in my house right now as I am making a hard push to get rid of all unnecessary items. The first stack is the “donate” pile. The things in this box have not been dug out of the backs of cupboards or closets in at least a year. I may look at some of them longingly, wishing I could convince myself they were needed, but I just can’t. They have to go. This stack is really easy for me to put stuff into, I don’t have a ton of sentimental attachment to things. I also don’t have a ton of cupboard space since I asked my husband to drag the island out of our kitchen two summers ago. Space is at a premium for me and so if it’s just collecting dust, it’s gone.

The second pile contains all of the things that I would call “recyclable”. My own big blue bin is full right now after snapping pictures of the dusty wine bottles I’d saved from special occasions and the thirteen-thousand pieces of child-art. This is normal recycling. What I’m talking about here is the out of date printer/empty toner cartridge/broken charging cord that needs to be dropped off at BestBuy. Did you know this was a thing? It is sooo simple, you should really try it out if you haven’t yet. You barely have to walk in the door with the smaller bits, and there are basically zero questions asked even with the larger items.

Also, the expired bottles of children’s Advil/sore throat spray/prescription-you-didn’t-finish in your medicine cabinet. Most cities have a place to drop these meds off so that they don’t end up polluting the groundwater or in the wrong hands. I’ve included the link for my county, but it’s quite simple to alter the search for your own corner of the world. I was worried that I’d have to {gasp} pay for parking just to drop off my expired bottles yesterday, but I was able to run into the downtown location quickly and without issue. Definitely safer than just tossing this stuff in the trash.

If you’re anything like me, despite your constant use of cloth bags for all of the things – groceries, library runs, even the liquor store- you still have a bazillion plastic grocery/other bags that make their way into your house. These usually should not be thrown in with your regular recycling, but can be easily returned to a grocery or box store for recycling. Also, many other places will take them too. The library will take clean bags for folks who ended up with more books than they thought they would and now need an extra hand. Many thrift stores will take used grocery bags. In my neighborhood there is even a group (probably more than one) that uses the bags to make “plarn” (that’s plastic-yarn) and then knits the plarn into mats that are distributed to the homeless community so that they have a layer of protection between their bodies and the cold concrete. If you want to donate your bags to this project let me know and I can connect you to someone who currently knits the mats.

There are other things in this pile; items I want to post on the Facebook sale sites, toiletries and dry goods that can be donated to the local shelter, jackets and shoes my kids have outgrown that I’ll pass on to friends with smaller children. Being able to do all of this makes me feel good. Sure it sucks up half a day once every couple of months, but I’m also able to benefit so many people by taking this time. It is a good opportunity to remind my kids that the trash is not the best option much of the time. It helps them to see that most items have a usefulness beyond what we might think. Yes, it requires a bit more work, but I think it’s worth it.

I honestly didn’t come here this morning to talk about recycling. Or even about downsizing in preparation for upcoming travel. I can’t exactly say how you got to read five paragraphs of this. All of this purging, all of this disposing, causes me to pause and really look back over the last ten years of accumulating. That is what I had hoped to mentally sort through here. When I went through my divorce, I left with one pickup truck bed full of things from my previous life. Though my lawyer told me I could go to my house and gather all of my belongings, my ex said otherwise and, since I was in a place of shame and fear, I returned only once to sneak back some of my favorite gardening things.

This leaving began my process of starting over. I truly had very few possessions at this point in my life and, looking back we should have hit the road right then and there. Instead, I felt the need to acquire all of the lost treasures I’d had “before”. This was made difficult due to job loss and babies, and deep emotional struggles. We worked through it though. By the grace of God we have come back from the lows of constant financial worry, pressing anxiety, and fear of what is to come. How do I now justify to myself the giving away of all that we have worked to gain? I suppose I do it by recycling. I imagine that is how all of those paragraphs came into being this morning. By giving the things back to those who need them.

In walking away from all that I had worked for nearly ten years ago, I felt a sense of loss for the material possessions. Those things represented all I had longed for, all of the brave and bold steps I had taken over the years to do little things for myself. The sacrifices I made to work where I wanted to work, to put effort toward what I wanted to do with my life. When at home I had been repeatedly told the things I felt were important, were not. I felt like the things I was walking away from were pieces of myself. Almost literally footprints from the times I had stood up for my own wants in a marriage that did not care what I wanted.

And now? Now I am choosing it. It is less heart-wrenching to dispose of the things because this time, most of them are just things that we have used. Not things that are a statement of who I am. I am trying to walk this line carefully, not insisting anyone in my family give up things that are special to them. Not forcing the donate pile to be too large in spite of cries from my children. While I don’t see the need for twelve stuffed animals, should I force them to be given up? I won’t yet. I can understand their fear of losing treasures that are truly important to them at this stage in their young lives, and I will make a conscious choice to not steal those treasures away.

If you’ll remember I started out by telling you I was making three piles. The third box that I’m filling up is full of the things I will take with me. While my sweet husband has repeatedly told me that he will only take three things along when we leave this place, my list is slightly longer. The things I am setting aside as important are small, most cost me nothing, and almost all of them speak to the person I am or have been over the last ten years. The pieces of history I put in the box all speak to me, some remind me of who I have worked so hard to become. Others show me where we are going.

What would you put in your box? Which possessions in your house would you definitely bring along if you had to/got to leave? I don’t mean the external hard-drive with all of your family photos on it. Though that could go in there for sure. As you look around your home, what holds value for you? What would you be grieved to leave behind? You may think that all of it is just “stuff”, I know that I did before. It’s funny how things can be so meaningful in showing who you are and who you’ve been. While I’d be one of the first to tell you that you’ll be fine without all of the stuff, I’ll also be one of the first to understand when you can’t part with a hand trowel or a bird bath or a jewelry box.

As I prepare for more things to be put into piles this weekend, I am feeling peaceful. I trust that I’ll have just what I need, exactly when I need it. There is no need to hold on so tightly to all of the knick-knacks or memorabilia. I can get through it, I know now that I can be defined by some thing and still let that thing go. The definition is still inside of me even without the external representation.