Attention those who can't let go: The problem is not your stuff. It's your stories.
This bit of news from Mark Brunetz, Emmy-award winning co-host of Style Network's Clean House, helped me get past the sting of selling my piano this week — for one-fourth of what I paid for it eight years ago. Oh, that burns.
The piano had a story: Once upon a time there were two little girls who took music lessons, one piano, the other flute. They happened to be my daughters, full of hope and promise. And I got caught up in a dream of a home filled with music and children discovering hidden talents thanks to parents who gratefully sacrificed their ribs for their kids' futures.
Well, the piano player's interest soon went the way of cassette tapes, though the $110-a-month payments for the cherry upright Baldwin endured. And endured.
By the time it was paid off, the piano bench hadn't creaked open in a year, and the only music in the house was piped out of iPods.
Fast forward. Up until last week, the piano, which had not been played more than 100 times, still sat in the same living room of the same story-filled home in Colorado, a home we now rent to other families who have their own dreams. The dream of the family moving in this month did not include my piano.
The new family has a Baby Grand, and wanted the upright out. I needed to unload yet another belonging that had gone from aspiration to albatross.
I called Brunetz for some letting-go therapy. "Stories like 'but it was expensive' or 'it has sentimental value' or 'I can give it to my kids some day' are what make us hang onto stuff we don't use or need," he said.
"Sounds like my piano."
"Those stories trap us. Let go of the story and you can let go of the stuff weighing you down."
"Why does it feel like a chunk leaving my soul?"
"The world is full of useful items, but if you don't use them, they're not useful to you."
The woman who bought my piano for a fourth of what I paid for it — did I mention that? — was a grandmother, who bought it for her granddaughter, a little girl adopted from China who was already playing virtuoso pieces. At home, all she had to play was an electric keyboard, until this week.
So the piano will fill a home with music. Just not my home. And it will fill a dream. Just not my dream. And you know what? That's really OK.
Brunetz, who is the author of "Take the U Out of Clutter" (Penguin Books, 2010), says that despite all the shows and books and articles on busting clutter, more than 200 million Americans still suffer from having too much stuff. Here's what they don't realize:
•It's not physical. Though clutter seems like a physical problem because it involves tangible stuff, the problem is emotional, says Brunetz. The psychological component to freeing our lives from needless items is more powerful than the physical one, he said.
•Don't organize stuff. Organize the stories behind the stuff, he says. Here are the most common stories:
I'd feel guilty if I got rid of that. Adult children feel guilty when their parents give them the family dining room table. They need to be able to say, "I know you want to give us the table, but it's hard to store and it's too big for our place." And understand what worked for their parents' lives doesn't necessarily work for them.
I might need that someday. "Living your life for one day robs you of today," Brunetz says. "We need to live in the present." Hanging onto my piano was living in the past. "When we project life into the past or the future, we eclipse the experience of the moment."
It has sentimental value. "How you love someone lives in your heart not in your home. Your heart can never be too full, but your home can be. The love you have for a grandparent or a sibling doesn't live in an inanimate object."
•Nip it in the store. Clutter is a matter of what comes into your home but doesn't go out. The best place to nip it is when you're in store, he says. Before you buy, ask: Do I really need, use or love it? What's the worst that could happen if I don't buy it? Where is it going to go in my house?
•Save the best stories. "I'm not saying get rid of all your stories," Brunetz said. "Strike a middle ground. Keep what you're attached to, but only if it's not encumbering you". And, yes, you can even have sentimental items. Brunetz has his great-grandfather's engraved mahogany humidor in his living room. Though he doesn't smoke or store cigars, "it reminds me where I came from and where I'm going," he said. "The humidor is from a man who spent his professional life as a master wallpaper hanger. It reminds me that I am a fourth-generation artisan, the descendant of a man who climbed up on a ladder day after day to make something more beautiful. I don't talk about that much, but that's me, too."
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).
See Mark and Marni
Mark Brunetz and Marni Jameson will be speaking at the Orlando Home Show, Oct. 5-7 at the Orange County Convention Center. Marni will speak on "Living Well" at 11 a.m. Oct. 5. Mark will talk about getting organized at 6 p.m. Oct. 5, noon and 5 p.m. Oct. 6, and 3 p.m. Oct. 7. For information and tickets, visitOrlandoHomeShow.com or call 877-871-SHOW (7469).