Last weekend I saw my first sign of spring. No, not a robin. Not a crocus. Not even a dandelion. This was a real sign. It said “rummage sale.”
Spring seems to be a time when many of us get the urge to clean house—to organize, sort, and get rid of stuff. The longer days and the promise of warm weather motivate us to clean out the winter’s accumulation of debris, just like our cave-dwelling ancestors must have done. There’s one slight difference. They tossed stuff over the edge of the nearest cliff. We put ours out in the yard with price tags on it.
The biggest rummage sale I’ve ever had was years ago. My ex-husband’s parents had moved out of their house into an apartment, and it fell to us to deal with 30 years’ worth of accumulated stuff they left behind.
It was a lot of stuff. They were hoarders. The closets bulged with long outdated clothes. There were boxes of stuff under the beds. The garage was piled literally floor to ceiling with stuff—you couldn’t even walk through it except on one narrow path between the stacks of boxes.
In some of those boxes, we found treasure. Toys. Thirty-year-old toys—cars, trucks, models, and games. Some of them were still in their original boxes. Most of them had never been used.
We had a huge rummage sale and sold most of the toys. We made a lot of money that was badly needed at the time. Still, we weren’t as thrilled about it as we might have been. We were too aware of the real value of those toys. We knew the high price of that windfall.
You see, those toys had all been gifts—Christmas and birthday gifts to my ex-husband and his two brothers from aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Gifts their parents couldn’t have afforded to buy them. Gifts that were lovingly and thoughtfully chosen. Gifts they must have been delighted to receive. And gifts that they never had a chance to play with.
Their parents had stored all those wonderful gifts away in boxes. To “keep them from getting broken.” To “save them till the boys were old enough to appreciate them.”
Among the things we found was a Davey Crockett bath towel with my ex-husband’s name on it. As a five-year-old who knew all the words to “The Ballad of Davey Crockett,” he would have loved it. At 35, he was certainly “old enough to appreciate it.” By then, however, it had pretty much lost its appeal.
In another box was a wind-up police car. Its light and siren still worked. We sold it for about $40. A good price, certainly—but a fraction of the value it might have had. Just imagine the fun three little boys could have had, winding it up and sending it across the floor, lights flashing and siren wailing, after imaginary crooks. Of course, sooner or later they would have broken it. Still, the pleasure it provided would have been worth far more than the $40 we got for it 30 years later.
This year, when you do your spring cleaning and organizing, take a minute and think about the stuff you have in your closets and cupboards and garage. Why is it there? How important is it to you? What does it add to your life?
If you don’t use it and don’t care about it, maybe it’s time to have a rummage sale and pass it on to someone else. If you do care about it, maybe it’s time to get it out and use it. If something is stashed away in boxes and don’t even remember it’s there, you might as well not have it. If it matters enough to keep, it matters enough to use and enjoy.
One of the things in my cupboard is a serving platter, an old one that belonged to my grandmother. I use it—for guests, for special occasions, and for ordinary family dinners. Yes, using it means taking the risk that I’ll break it someday. But in the meantime, I think about my grandmother every time I get it out. To me, that honors her memory far more than keeping the platter hidden away in a cupboard and saving it for years, until someday my own grandchildren get it and sell it on E-Bay.
So why not use what you have? Let the kids play with those special toys. Use the good china. Wear the clothes you’re saving for special occasions. Get rid of meaningless stuff that’s nothing but clutter. Then enjoy what you have left.
Some possessions, after all, are simply too valuable not to use.