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After Years of the Clutter Battle, Finally Letting Go of the Vestigial

by Judy Stone-Goldman on September 10, 2014

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This week I achieved something that has heretofore eluded me: I threw out mementos that have followed me around for a lifetime.

Gone are the scrapbooks started in nursery school.

Gone are the letters from Girl Scout Camp.
Gone are (most of) the illustrated stories I wrote, scrawled in pencil by a child’s hand.
Gone are the diaries of junior high, high school, and college.
Gone are the angst-filled poems of my teenage years and letters of love and suffering (some exchanged with boys I can’t remember in the least)
Gone are the stuffed animals, the dolls, the miniature toys, the board games, the souvenirs, the bangles and bobbles, the trinkets, the treasures.

A moment of nostalgia, and then gone.

My life is passing before my eyes in the Great House Clearing Out. Every paper, every memento, every gift, every tchotchke, every household item, every toiletry — every last thing must be touched and evaluated. Does it come along in the move or does it finish its life now? It is Judgment Day for the stuff of memories and life’s stories.

childhood story Tom Thumb

One of my Tom Thumb stories

I’ve written about my battle with belongings many a time before, about clutter and cleaning out, about my desire to hold on and my resistance to letting go. I’ve mentioned clutter in 38 posts, yet it remained in my home, a stubborn landscape laying claim to space and emotional energy. Yet suddenly all is changing, and I am filling up bin after bin with refuse. How did this happen? How did I become able to release the accumulations so deeply connected to family, friends, and fables?

childhood scrapbook memories

Scrapbook pages holding school memories (imagine a school activity associated with a cigarette company!)

It’s easy to point to my pending move to a new home as the impetus for this clearing out. After all, what better chance is there for reducing one’s belongings than being required to pack up everything and transfer it to a new location? But the move, while important, does not tell the whole story. Of course I want a more tranquil physical space, but my new-found ability to let go of endless stuff comes as much from internal change as the external opportunity.

Prior to my transitional period this summer, I found myself (re)discovering patterns of thinking and acting that were sadly familiar and unquestionably detrimental to my daily satisfaction. Recurring themes are not new for me, but I was startled by how unnecessary and silly the old patterns seemed. “What on earth is this about?” I wondered. Then, in a fleeting moment that was a mix of frustration and lucidity, I thought, “This seems so vestigial. This feels like a vestigial organ.”

Thus began an exploration of my vestigial skin: what remains as a remnant of the past, long beyond its original purpose or necessity but still existing within. I understood that my need — and my desire — was to step out of my vestigial skin. The ensuing story, the story of stepping out of my psychological vestigial skin, helped me see the external vestigial all around me.  Finally I am releasing the houseful of vestigial keepsakes (and junk) I have been lugging around for a lifetime.

Vestigial skin has become something of a passion for me! More to come in future posts.

Questions for Reflection: Are you a “saver” or a “releaser”? What does it mean to you to let go of things associated with the past? Do you have any old, recurring patterns that feel vestigial to you?

Writing Prompts: “The mementos of the past that are most important to me are ______” (then keep writing); “I know that I tend to hold on when it comes to _____, which is a problem for me because ______” (then keep writing); “It would give me a sense of freedom to let go of ______” (then keep writing); “When I read about vestigial skin, I immediately begin thinking about ______” (then keep writing).

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Carla September 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Judy, Judy, Judy… you know I am sorting, throwing, recycling….but mostly papers now. My Lord, I need to plant a tree or more! I’m very much a paper person. I have a hard time shifting to “just saving it” on the computer/phone. When I left WA I had a lot of objects I recycled, gave away, dumped….and many were mementos, but I still have many more. Once I begin going through the other boxes and drawers….I will see what my response is.
My FIRST thought when I started reading your blog was….did you take photos of the mementos? I remember reading a de-cluttering article that suggested taking photos. I’m going to start doing that. I want to explore this vestigial concept. I don’t know much about it. Finally…nice to see you say ….”more to come in future posts”….Judy is back!


Judy Stone-Goldman
September 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Carla, I’ve seen some of your posts on FB with the sorting/organizing. Ah yes! The amount of everything that is going to recycle or disposal is unbelievable, and I had to get over my despair at contributing to the landfill (despite my best efforts to recycle/donate everything), but I got to that amazing point of really understanding this was part of the pain required for moving forward. I’m not letting go of everything. I am learning to be selective about a few small items that hold a larger significance, and I have boxloads of photos that will require some attention. But I’ve definitely entered a new stage and can already smell the freedom. It is no accident that I am cleaning, changing, moving ahead, and writing! Thanks for the “she’s back!” acknowledgment!


Amy September 10, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Glad to be the recipient of some of these 🙂
Til it is my turn to downsize…


Judy Stone-Goldman
September 10, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Amy, When your time comes, may it be a gift of transition and hope! (Then, plan to have plenty of dumpster space available!)


Liz Gow September 11, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Judy, thank you so much for this insightful, authentic post. I have just realized that I have been holding on to old patterns that do not serve me and need to let of some more junk. It feels as if in your junk you have rediscovered some precious gifts also. How uplifting this blog is. 🙂 x


Judy Stone-Goldman
September 13, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Liz, I found I had to open myself to the junk — both to see what it might tell me and then to let it go. Glad you found resonance in the post. May your own explorations of what to release bring both satisfaction and excitement about the freedom ahead.


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