Letting go of the stuff that drags you down

When I went home to look after my father in late 2013, I was reminded that I’ve been leaving a trail of stuff behind every time I move. A closet in my parents’ home was full of crap from my apartment in Halifax that I’d never even thought about going through, that I didn’t even realize they still had. Heck, there was even stuff from my childhood. My brother took the contents of that apartment, including my items, into his own home after my dad died, so now there’s this little pseudo storage unit of my junk lingering around, taking up physical space in someone else’s house.

I’ve had a storage unit in Ottawa since late 2011. At the time, I wanted a place to keep the bulk of the stuff I thought I might need or want in the future so that I could move relatively unencumbered to my new rented room. My goal, I thought (I still think), was to become more portable, to be able to travel more lightly. I had plans to go through everything and eventually eliminate the need for a storage unit at all, to truly start travelling lightly.

That never happened.

I hadn’t changed how I functioned, how I shopped and gathered and collected stuff, I’d just removed it all from my immediate view and cleared out space to be filled up again. And so I started gathering more stuff at my new nearly-empty room. It was a different kind of collecting and gathering — smaller items, items I actually used and enjoyed, though more of them than is practical. (Stationery supplies, including specialty notebooks and fountain pens, were — and to extent still are — a particular weakness.)

The weight of everything, the pressure of this desperate need to fill this hole in me with stuff, eventually felt like it was killing me. Somewhere deep in me, I knew I needed to make an even bigger move if I was going to have any hope of surviving. And so I made the sudden decision to quit my job and use the last of my money to move across the country. Like a drowning person, desperately grasping for anything to hold onto to pull themselves out, I grabbed onto the thought of this big change and held on for dear life.

Again, I had planned to weed through everything and only keep what was going to come with me. But there were large, bulky items (like my mother’s paintings) that just wouldn’t have shipped easily, and there were limits to how much I could actually bring or ship to me. And I just ran out of time and energy. So I threw everything I couldn’t bring with me into the storage unit with plans to come back the following year to get it all shipped out to me. (I made sure to bring the things I truly didn’t want to risk losing, like my cat’s ashes and the Tupperware container of my parents’ ashes, with me. Even with eight suitcases, I still left so much stuff behind. It’s a little mind boggling to actually think about.) I haven’t lived in Ottawa in two years now and, if I’m honest, I was not likely to ever have been in a position to ship everything out to me or to store it once it was up here. But I still kept paying for the unit because I just couldn’t let it all go.

Then, in July of this year, my contract job here ended. I should have expected it, planned for it, but I never do. While I am able to collect EI while I job hunt, it is not enough to pay for this storage unit. That was luxury I couldn’t afford when I need to pay rent and other more immediate and necessary bills.

The storage company was so nice, so willing to help — they were even willing to deliver ALL of my stuff to someone else in Ottawa so that I didn’t lose it. But, honestly, I’m kind of relieved that I didn’t have the means to take them up on that offer. While there are things that it annoys me to lose (like the bottles of ink in formulations they no longer make) and things that are irreplaceable (like my mother’s paintings and afghans), I desperately needed to have this not be constantly on my mind. (And shifting it all over to another location would just keep that worry alive. I have a storage unit here that is more than enough worry for me, and it really just exists so I would have some place to keep my belongings should I ever be at risk of becoming a bag lady.)

I asked them to pass on my email address to whoever wins the auction — I’d hoped to explain the value of some of the items in the unit (they might as well get as much as they can for it, and I’d hate for them to throw out something that could make them money and make a collector happy) and perhaps one day arrange to have the things like the genealogy notes sent to me. (The unit contained an eclectic mix of tarot decks and crystals; a ridiculous number of notebooks, fountain pens, and stationery supplies; old journals, hard drives, and backup DVDs; out-of-print technical writing and grammar books; memorabilia for an Australian soap opera; all of my genealogy notes and other personal papers; paintings by me and by my mother as well as artwork prints from other artists; afghans and a quilt made by long-dead relatives; and tchotchkes from my childhood. While there is probably some completely worthless junk there — I was doing to pretty broad dumping of stuff on the day of my flight — whoever got this unit should easily make up whatever they paid for it and then some if they take some time.)

I never heard from the buyer, but I got an email from the storage company a few weeks ago that they have a small box of “personal effects”. A friend who still lives in Ottawa picked that up for me and will be shipping it to me in the next couple of weeks. I have no idea what it contains — it almost certainly does not contain any of the items I was hoping it would contain, like old journals, but it apparently does contain a bunch of photos.

What’s funny is that the day after I told the storage company to let it go to auction, I had a sudden money windfall of almost exactly what I owed for the unit. I *could* have called them back to reclaim the unit, but that windfall was much better spent paying other bills I was behind on. (And the sudden windfall would not have helped the fact that I just couldn’t afford the monthly payments and I would have ended up in the same place in a month or two.)

Other than the friend who picked up the box of personal effects, no one I know knows that I’ve lost the storage unit. Most people wouldn’t really care. And the people that would care wouldn’t understand why I let it go. (They didn’t understand how I could be OK with unloading most of my possessions in 2011, either.) They would mourn the loss of the paintings and other sentimental items. They wouldn’t understand that I didn’t want anyone to fix this, that I wanted this finished. I can’t afford to owe anyone financially or emotionally to keep this thing going.

And I can’t keep leaving these piles of my stuff all over the place, like a breadcrumb trail leading back to where I started when I need to be looking forward.

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