One of my favorite films is 1944’s Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Long before the days when movies relied on green screens and visual effects to carry a narrative, Hollywood hinged its films on good stories and rich, complex characters. Gaslight is no exception.
In the film, Boyer’s sinister Gregory is trying to drive his wife, Paula, played by Bergman, to insanity to steal her money. He employs simple measures to achieve his goal: hiding objects and blaming his wife for losing them and creeping around the attic while she’s home alone at night. But his most egregious (and effective) tactic was stuffing their fashionable London townhouse with heavy wallpaper, oversized furniture, framed pictures, and a veritable ocean of knickknacks. It was designed to make Paula feel closed in, unable to reason or even breathe.
That film had a lasting impact on me, but it took a worldwide pandemic to give me the time and mental space to make a change.
In the spring of 2020, as the country was in lockdown, I surveyed my home: every closet, every cupboard, every inch of storage space. And I was appalled. I wasn’t in Hoarders territory by any means, but I was troubled at how much I had accumulated in 20-something years. I decided it was the right time to address the issue.
So, over the course of the next year, I “Marie Kondo’d” my condo by looking at each item and questioning its true worth. Why do I still have it? Do I really need it? Could somebody else use that which I clearly forgot I owned? Nearly every week for a year, I recycled, donated, or threw away dumpsters’ worth of items.
Something concretized for me a year into this experiment. We’ve become so consumed by accumulating that it fills up space we cannot afford to lose. And it’s understandable. When materialism is oxygenated by aggressive advertising and the simplicity of buying online (I’m looking at you, Mr. Bezos), it’s easy to understand how our homes and our minds can get cluttered.
I love the line in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “God loves a cheerful giver.” And while I wasn’t always exactly cheerful when donating my old possessions (nobody needs a lava lamp and I rarely used it—but I still miss it), I choose to believe it’s brightening the corner of somebody’s bedroom right now, giving off beautiful hues of green and blue. As they say, one man’s junk . . .
I’m still a work in progress—and there’s much more to be done. I still see clothes that I will never wear again (read: fit into) and closets that have more items than I can use. But I know now that I have the mental grit to let go of what truly doesn’t serve me. And all it took was a Hollywood classic and a global pandemic to make it happen.