I’ve written quite a bit about techniques to declutter, or to stop accumulating so much stuff. Recently though, I was introduced to a new method to get rid of lots of stuff: flooding.
My little town suffered the breach of a dyke about 3 weeks ago, which I wrote about here. Writing at the time was pretty traumatic, and the whole thing still feels surreal.
I want to make it clear that all that was lost, in our case, were material possessions. My children are safe, and so are my wife and I. Thanks to herculean efforts and the help of a few dear friends, our house is almost ready to be moved back in, which is a lot more than many people can say.
This brings me to the decluttering angle of things. I find one of the more difficult aspects of decluttering is letting go of items that remind me of things, that elicit memories or feelings. Because so many of my precious books and belongings were damaged by the flood, and the disgusting sewer waters, I had no choice but to get rid of them. In many cases I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.
I catch myself a hundred times a day thinking, yeah, I have something like that … oh wait. No I don’t. Not anymore. My wife was asking me how many bookshelves we had – for insurance purposes. My first thought was, that’s easy, let me go check … oh wait.
As horrible and traumatic as this experience has been – let’s call it that – the fallout has something that for me, is somewhat cathartic. I don’t have to go through thousands upon thousands of items, deciding at every step what makes the cut and what doesn’t. God has already made the choice for me, and He chose whatever was on the lower shelves, hung in the water or fell in the water, as well as the actual floor, walls and ceilings of my basement. And the washroom. And the freezer. And my grandmother’s rocking chair. And all the kid’s toys.
God has made the choice, and I had to carry everything out to the curb.
In the picture above you can see a small excavator picking up 40 years of treasured possessions and dumping them unceremoniously in a truck. We initially took so much stuff out that it took that machine 2 hours and three – THREE – full trucks to haul away our stuff. We put more out afterwards, at least another truck full.
The result has been spectacular in terms of decluttering – silver lining here folks. I never thought that I would get the chance to remodel the basement to my taste, but here we are.
Having lost so much possessions already, I find it easier to select what I’ll be keeping from what has survived. I thought that since so much was lost, I would be keen on keeping every shred of what was not, however I find that this is not the case.
It’s like the Band-Aid has been pulled; I am now able to throw away things that I have been keeping for years, on the odd chance that I would need them again, or because someone I cared about loved them. My dear, departed mother loved books by Larry McMurtry; I don’t. I don’t need to keep stuff someone else loved because I loved them. It doesn’t make me love my mother any more or miss her any less because I am holding on to these things – and countless others.
We are now in the process of boxing up what we have left so that we can finally move back into our house. The water is drained, everything in the basement is demolished and taken out, the decontamination is done. All we have left to do is clean up and move back in, and remember the lesson that was taught to us, at great emotional, physical and financial expense: stuff is just stuff.