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Letting Go of the Stuff and the Story

  • Change

I’ve seen it happen more than once. Someone leaves their house (moving out, passing on, etc.) and a dumpster is delivered to the driveway. Twenty cubic yards, maybe thirty. That’s where their stuff goes. Someday—in a future that grows ever closer—I’ll leave this house. With that dumpster in mind, I’m paring down bit by bit. Letting go of some things. And, sometimes, letting go of the story I assigned to them.

Wait. It Wasn’t About Me?

I misunderstood Aunt Jean’s excitement. She seemed thrilled to run to a trunk in the other room and bring to me her teacups and saucers. She pulled back the newspaper in which they were so carefully wrapped, showing me how beautiful and precious they were.

Her enthusiasm made this feel like a special moment—a misinterpretation I carried as I put them on a shelf in my kitchen. There they stayed for decades, claiming space and holding nothing but that idea. Some I used occasionally. Most never.

The dishes multiplied. People were beginning to believe that I was collecting these. Indeed, I was, but not really on purpose.

What Have We Got?

Yesterday, the cups come down from the shelf to make room for some glassware. Then; with me standing on a chair, working around the glasses, they went back up. I could not understand why I was keeping them. (I’m not, I decided.)

A text to my stepdaughter asking if she wants these china pieces. Polite hard pass. Some mention of her mother’s persistent dish collection …

My wishing she wanted them brought a new understanding of Aunt Jean’s excitement. A lot of the stuff in this house? I would love to know someone who wants it. I would pack it up ASAP and create one enthusiastic special moment after another!

After pulling the dishes back down from the shelf, I moved on to Wordle. Each attempt I start with a different five-letter word. On this day, it was FOIST.

Susan McDowell


  • Care to compare notes, share stories, or maybe just feel less alone in the experience of growing wiser? Check out The Gatherings.
  • How do you go about clearing out? How do you work around the stories? Here’s one useful article.

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