When Decluttering Means Letting Go of an Old Dream


Dear friends,

Since we moved into this house 11 years ago, two bins have remained unopened in the garage.

The labels read ‘BOOKENDS.’ You wouldn’t think a bunch of bookends would carry emotional weight for me, would you? And yet they do.

This past weekend as I was putting Christmas ornaments away, I saw those two BOOKENDS bins and felt a pang.

I took notice, and decided to go sit for a little while and delve into my feelings. Why did I feel sad, and what did those two boxes of bookends represent? I closed my eyes for a few minutes and prayed for understanding.


Bin of bookends


After some soul-searching, I realized that the bookends were a tangible reminder of a period when life felt secure and settled. In our last house, when I was married, we hired a craftsman to build a handsome wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in our living room. Our two book collections were beautifully merged, and I assembled a dozen pairs of bookends from antique stores and eBay to make the shelves look like a magazine spread. We welcomed a baby and grew our family there. It was a house where we built dreams.

Two years later, hardly anything had gone as planned. My husband and I were separated, and the dream house was put up for sale. I downsized to a smaller home, and stored the bookends in the garage. For Someday.

I guess for the past decade, I subconsciously imagined that Someday I would unpack those bookends because there would again be a house with a big wall of bookshelves, and more books to merge. So the bins have stubbornly remained through numerous garage decluttering attempts.

Going Deeper

Here’s what I realized this week, after contemplating and getting clear:

I think it’s finally time to let those old bookends go. I have different dreams and plans now. My family and I are happy and content here, and someday I’d like to downsize again. The book collection gets a little smaller every year.

Dreams change over time, and now I’m in a phase of life where I want to live lighter. Do you know what I mean?

It’s funny, but once I got clear about my attachment to the bookends, I started evaluating my deeper motivations for hanging on to a bunch of other stuff. I think 2018 is my year to finally let some things go.

How About You?

Would you like to try an experiment?

Go to your storage area, and stand there and look at your things for a quiet minute or two without judgment. Then ask yourself these questions:

Do any of these things evoke strong emotions? If so, can you spend a little time thinking about why, and what story or hope or dream or plan or attachment the object represents to you?

Next, ask yourself this:

What would happen if I let this go?

In “Farewell, My Punch Bowl,” I wrote about giving away a heavy crystal punch bowl after hauling it from house to house for 30 years because I wanted to keep it in case I might like to make punch someday for a party. I finally realized that if I ever did want to make punch (hasn’t happened yet) I could borrow a large bowl from a friend or neighbor.

Perhaps you’re ready to let some old stuff go, too.

On the other hand, if you have things that you’re just not ready to part with yet, honor that feeling. Tuck those precious things away, and be gentle with yourself.

You will know what to do when the time is right.

Just as I know that the time has finally come to let go of my weighty bookends.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is the author of 16 books, including Small Bites, 101 Things To Do With Bacon, and BERRIES. She enjoys sharing ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, and home projects. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.

12 thoughts on “When Decluttering Means Letting Go of an Old Dream”

  1. Thank you for sharing that personal insight. I don’t have anything so dramatic, but in our storage area (the garage) last week I found electric bill stubs from our LAST house. We haven’t lived there for 9 years. I’m looking forward to getting back in there and seeing what other old-life things need to be decluttered!

    • I think old papers multiply while we sleep, Priscilla. Ha! Thanks for your comment, and good luck with your decluttering efforts. Here’s to more space and breathing room in 2018. xo

  2. Thank you for your vulnerability Eliza, don’t we all do that! I’ve been (still) putting Christmas things away and tidying up our basement storage, going through some bins to give away many things that I haven’t used in years, I have boxes and bags of things to take to ARC! But in the process, discovered several brand new items that had been tucked away, with each bathroom remodel I thought I would use them, but alas, they go unused and so I finally put them out on the Google Group to sell, feels so good! Loving this challenge of general de-cluttering, I’m still going strong!

    • Kathleen, good for you! It sounds like you’re making real progress in your basement. Baby steps, right? I’m so glad you are enjoying the money diet challenges, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. Hugs to you. xxoo

  3. YES! I finally got rid of my punchbowl set (saved for the time I’d have a party – but my groups of friends aren’t punchdrinkers!). Didn’t go at garage sale but was donated to church, hopefully for gatherings there.

    Other AHA – I LOVE to decorate for Christmas and have many dear treasures; yet, this Christmas, we were both DOWN w/pneumonia – NO energy, inc. for decorating. Thank You, God – it was OK! Suddenly unimportant! Yes, time to read and worship but not decorate. Hope to take it next step and say ‘goodbye’ to some of those treasures!

    • Oh Carolyn, I’m so sorry you came down with pneumonia during the Christmas season. But good for you, finding a silver lining in the simpler celebration you enjoyed. Good luck with your organizing efforts and thank you for sharing your experience. xo

  4. I’ve been through similar prosesses: the merging of lives (and books), complete with a full set of hopes and dreams (and bookends); the disassembling of said lives, hopes and dreams (I kept the bookends) and the subsequent rebirth, rising like Phoenix from the ashes of the residual, illogical clutter and stuff. Like the punch bowl…just in case of a party… ha ha! I laughed out loud! Eliza – who knew, back in the day?

    • Your descriptions are poignant, and I’m glad to know a fellow bookend collector – ha! I think I’m going to keep a pair to remember and honor that time. I like your description of the Phoenix, too. Hugs and love to you and Stella. xo (P.S. We probably made punch in junior high Home Ec class!)

  5. I let go of so many things last year – a few not because I wanted to, as you know, but many things because letting go of the intangibles left me not wanting so many tangibles. Even after that huge clearing before my move in September I still am taking things to charity each week. I feel lighter and happier for doing so. XO and happy new year!

  6. sweet story Eliza. Thanks for sharing. Our body remembers things that our mind doesn’t fully. It’s a good practice to bring mind and body together occassionally!

  7. Awwww… what a sweet post. It’s really a sign of growth, I think. To let go of the picture, and live in reality. I owned a soufflé dish for many years. It was white, and beautiful, and I just loved it… but I never used it. Not only have I never made a soufflé, I don’t think I really even know what a soufflé is! I just liked the dish, and mostly I liked the idea of being the sort of person who would make soufflé! Letting go of it was a relief.

  8. I similarly had to let go of a lot of saved-up things that I had in storage in Colorado, just recently, and felt some pain from this but mostly was relieved (like you). Loading things onto a Goodwill truck literally felt like a letting go of baggage!

    For some reason in high school, I grew a huge collection of different editions of Alice in Wonderland and thought they were valuable and unique. But I never displayed them for two decades, they just sat in a under-bed storage container completely ignored. Now I have no place that I want to put these in my house, and have already had to downsize about 100 other books I had to fit on our shelves, so it seems absurd to still keep the Alice collection in the bin. I looked into trying to sell the books on ebay, but it’s become obvious that Alice is one of the most published books of all time. Most of my collected editions are not rare! So I gave a few away to friends but I am giving the rest of these along with many other books, dvds and cd’s to a cool local organization in Boston that provides after-school jobs for students called More than Words. They will resell these online and find them a home.
    I am a little envious of your bookends collection but agree, you gotta let these memories go.


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