My family is moving to a smaller house across town and I have discovered that we simply have too much stuff. For the past few weeks, I’ve been sorting and packing and condensing all of our possessions. Some days, I feel unstoppable; other days, I’m weeping into a pile of preschool artwork. It’s been a real journey over here.
I started with the easiest things, like clothes and sports gear and books. A few years ago, I made up a “game” for my family called “love it or hate it” to help all of us give away things we no longer needed. It works best in a speed round format: I hold up a sweatshirt or a Harry Potter book and my kids have two options, love it or hate it. There’s no in-between; if it isn’t loved, it’s given away to someone who will hopefully love it.
This method is great for recently acquired items, like TJ Maxx art or dance costumes, but it gets more complicated when I’m sorting through baby pictures or family goblets.
I’ve been texting pictures of things that I’m finding in my home to my mother with the question, “Why do I have this?” I’m asking her to remind me who it once belonged to and also why I wanted it in the first place. Her gracious response is usually “Times change and needs change; you don’t have to keep it.”
I’m not especially sentimental, but I’m finding it hard to sort through all of our stuff without feeling nostalgic and sometimes a bit mournful.
Some of it is that we don’t have little kids anymore; some of it is that many of the things I thought I’d need when we moved into this house eleven years ago aren’t useful to me anymore. It’s not just the dress up clothes for toddlers; it’s also my theology books. We are different people moving out of this house than we were moving into it, so it doesn’t make sense to haul who I thought we’d be from one house to the next. We should only bring what serves us best and release the rest.
So, instead of playing “love it or hate it” with our more meaningful objects, I am using a question I learned in seminary that is usually applied to Scripture: “Is this bread or is it stone?” It’s a way of asking “Does this nurture me or weigh me down?” It helps me figure out if I want to carry items forward or if I just feel obligated to keep them.
Another image I am keeping in mind is how heavy luggage feels the longer you carry it. Whenever I travel, I pack way too much in my carry-on satchel. Things that felt absolutely essential, such as three books, multiple snacks and all of my toiletries, feel burdensome by the time I’m in the security line. I spend half the day crossly digging through my overstuffed bag, conveniently forgetting that I’m the one who packed it. Arrivals Anna is often displeased with Departures Anna. I’d like the Annas to work better together so we don’t feel so burdened by what we’ve packed once we land.
And I’m not just talking about possessions. Part of our motivation for moving is to get a fresh start as a smaller family. Since the big kids have gone to college, the remaining four of us have been rambling around in this house missing them. Elizabeth sleeps alone upstairs; the kitchen is much quieter; there are reminders of who we were as a family everywhere. We’re ready to build some new memories in a new house, taking with us what serves us well and releasing anything heavy or burdensome. That way, we’ll have more room in our house and in our hearts for the new things that God will surely do in our lives. We just have to clear out some space.
I love this. Wonderful post!
I love all of your posts but this one hit particularly close to home. We are in exactly the same spot as you . . . We move in six weeks. I like the “bread or stone” test and am going to start using it today. I love the idea of making room physically and emotionally for what God has planned for our life as empty nesters.
This really speaks to me. In anticipation of and preparation for a new marriage I’m doing the same thing. It is hard, especially for those of us who took an extra helping of sentimentality. Bread or stone? Truth is, I’m both well-fed and well-grounded. Like you, I’ll keep working on it.
This has been so true as Paul and I moved to the boulevard neighborhood. It was the dishes. The kids art. The “heirlooms “.
We are living lean. I brought a lot more than I thought as we got rid of soooooo much. We had 17 totes of our kids art and paper stuff. I had an old chest I always used as an end table. I decided it was the container for the kids art and paper. It’s heavy. It’s full. But it’s one thing. And it’s still a coffee table.
I have three closets. They are prime real estate. Everything in this house must earn its spot.
Here’s a silver lining for you!
I now live among artists and students. They think my cast offs RoCK! Ha ha.
I’ll put something (s) at the end of my sidewalk on a Saturday and if it’s still there Sunday afternoon it goes in the dumpster for Monday trash pickup.
Ben made this large ghoulish pot/bottle thing in a pottery class. ( kinda creepy) I kept it around for years. I put it out for “my purge-your pleasure”… someone snapped it up. Ben saw it on a porch while walking his dog over Christmas. He came in and said….”mom I saw my jug on someone’s porch. “ I asked “how does it make you feel?” He said. “Kinda weird but okay. “
I guess it was a stone for us both. It’s bread for someone else.
The heirlooms had to have a specific memory for me….I no longer have room for “well this once belonged to —-“ I still have a little guilt.-ish.
You’ll love walking. You’ll love the casual attitude. You’ll love living a little leaner. Welcome to the neighborhood! Dawn.
Anna— this is so true . It is lovely AND honest. AND: helpful in a very practical way. I’m forwarding it to my friends who are facing the same struggles moving to Presbyterian Village!🦋
I too appreciate the “bread or stone” question. It seems to have many applications for me.
And Happy Birthday Anna!
With love, Linda
Hope you kept photos of 4th Pres high school mission trips to places like Mexico (Deantin) and West Virginia (who was the older woman that you got attached to ?)
I love everything about this post – particularly “Is it bread or is it stone”. In late 2019, I moved out of the home I had shared with my husband for 15 years. It was our first and only home together. That move was mostly about efficiency and minimizing the pain for both of us. Last fall, I moved again – out of my transitional apartment – and I was shocked at home many of my belongings were no longer interesting to the new me. I love that you are moving to create new memories in a new home for you and the girls. It doesn’t make the packing any less miserable.
I’ve been missing your blogs, Anna! I thought you were just taking a break.
When I have to move to my next/last house, I will use your “bread of stone” method of really really downsizing.
Thanks, as always for sharing you cogent thoughts.
Wishing you the best as you re-create in a new home.