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Katie Lance Headshot

Letting Go of Stuff

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As many people do at the beginning of the year, the desire to de-clutter, to start fresh and to clean house was top of mind.

To back up, I have always been (and feel free to verify this with my mom) -- someone who likes "stuff." I am sentimental. I keep cards and notes, and photos, doodles from my kids and much more "just because." So the day I decided to tackle my desk started innocently enough.

Drawer by drawer, I went through and threw out meaningless post-it notes, pens that no longer worked -- that was the easy part. Then I came to a drawer with 30 or 40 lanyards from conferences I had spoken at over the last year or two. There was really no reason why I was keeping these other then sentimental value.

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I started looking at those lanyards and started really thinking about the "stuff" that we all have and why we hang on to things with the hope that "someday" we'll use it, or "someday" we will do some thing meaningful with it. I made a bold move that day --  I threw out the entire drawer of lanyards. I have to admit, it felt good getting rid of something that at one time was sentimental, but honestly when I looked at them now, was just a pile of plastic and ribbons.

If anything, it motivated me to get rid of them as I started the new year, and a new schedule packed with speaking gigs. I'm sure that drawer will fill up again quickly! I then opened the next drawer -- conference programs. Why, oh why, was I keeping stacks of programs from conferences past. I remember at one point justifying them saying I may need to look something up or find someone's contact information. But then in a conversation with myself I reminded myself that -- "HELLO! There is such a thing as Google!"

So, out the stack of conference guides went. Boy, now I was on a roll. Two bags of trash later, my husband came into my office with a look on his face like, "What on earth are you doing?" But he knows better than to stop me -- see he loves a clean and organized home. I love a clean home too, but I struggle with my piles of "stuff" and my sentimentality to let things go.

All of this organizing led me to an experience a last weekend. For sometime, my husband and I had hung onto a lot of our baby stuff  -- the crib both my boys slept in, the glider I rocked my baby in, strollers that got their fair share of wear and tear and some other items.

I had half-heartedly tried to donate or give them away, but honestly I think deep down there was a part of me that was hanging on. Hanging on to the memory of what was and acknowledging that we are now in a different yet wonderful stage in our lives with our two boys. Although we had decided quite awhile back that two boys were our magic number -- I think this last physical act of giving away our crib held more meaning then I think I realized. But, after months of my wonderful husband "encouraging me" to donate or "do something" with these things, I decided today was the day.

Our garage was overflowing, and partly because of these things that needed to go. I put an ad up on Craigslist and within an hour everything was gone.

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It was a bittersweet afternoon, but I have to admit, our garage is much more spacious, even though there is just a tinge of sadness in me. All of these acts over the last two months were really sparked by a much bigger event in my life.

In November of 2013, two days before Thanksgiving, my grandfather, or Papa as we called him, passed away. His wife of nearly 71 years -- Nana passed away just seven months before that. I grew up with my grandparents. For very milestone, birthday, celebration and everything in between -- they were there.

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I was very close to my grandparents and I feel so lucky to have had them in my life for 38 years. They knew my husband and became grandparents to him and then great-grandparents to our two boys. I bring this up because this is what sparked this conversation about "stuff." Shortly after my grandfather's passing, I went over to their house with my parents.

There is nothing more strange then walking through a loved ones home after they pass away. It almost felt like I was intruding on their space, that I was being nosy, and it didn't help that I half-expected to see my grandparents when I walked in the door. In the weeks and months that passed, my parents have gone through the painstaking process of going through clothes, furniture, mementos and everything in between.

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How do you know what to keep, or donate or toss out? I was reminded that at the end of the day our stuff -- is just that -- it's just stuff. It's just that so much of our stuff has so much meaning.

Why do I have my grandparent's two sets of everyday silverware? Not that I need it by any means -- but it reminds me of every meal that we had together over the years. I have my grandmother's rocking chair that her father made her when she was a little girl. It's a chair I sat in and now my boys sit in. I remember a few weeks back coming across piles and piles of greeting cards that my Nana kept.

My mom and I almost tossed them but at the eleventh hour I said, "No, I'll take them home and go through them." Part of me did this because I know how sentimental I am with cards and I hope when I'm gone that someone will take the time to go through the cards I've decided to keep. I did end up tossing quite a few cards and keeping some -- but what I loved about it was seeing my grandparents through the lens of their friends -- my Papa's golf and Cal Berkeley pals, my Nana's dear girl friends she had for years and the dozens of "couple" friends they had. I smiled reading birthday and thank you greetings. It was just a snippet into a life well lived and a peek into who they were as a husband and wife, not just my grandparents.

In the last few weeks, my mom and dad have discovered 'love notes' tucked into old wallets, books, purses -- some scribbled on the backs of receipts and tiny pieces of paper. Small notes of love and affection from my Papa to my Nana. It makes me smile to think that she saved so many of those.

So what's next? My grandparents home is close to being empty. My family has a large storage facility with tons of furniture and "things" -- things that we may or may not use one day. At some point it is hard to let go -- even though a couch or a chair is just a thing -- it has sentiment behind it and even the toughest people I know have a hard time of letting go of some things.

What's been interesting to me in all of this are the things I wanted to keep -- I have my Papa's leather jacket hanging in my closet because it still smells like him. I have my Nana's jewelry box on my dresser because it reminds me of being a little girl and how much fun I had looking through it with her. I have a lot of photos, cards and yes some "stuff."

But what I have the most of are memories that will last a lifetime; the memory of my grandparents seeing my boys for the first time. Or the memories of them seeing us purchase our first home. Or the memories of me on the day I walked down the aisle. So many memories large and small.

In all of this it's reminded me that our stuff many times is just that -- stuff. So, that may explain the tossing of the conference lanyards or the late night closest cleaning. It's certainly made me reevaluate all these things we hang onto...because at the end of the day -- is it just more stuff? Perhaps it is, but what I've learned to is to pick and choose.

You can't save everything -- but save things that represent moments and memories of happy times.

I remember hearing a quote that still resonates with me to this day: "Don't worry about the past, it already happened. Don't worry about the future, we can't control it. Enjoy the present. That's why it's called a gift!"

I'd love your thoughts on this subject, you can tweet me @katielance or connect with me on my Facebook Page!