Apparently, when your daughter gets engaged you have to paint your house, even if you aren't holding the wedding there.
I am not sure why, but the minute the ring was on her finger, I hired a painter. And the first place he tackled was the area of our basement where we keep all our stuff.
And there was a lot of stuff back there. I know, because all of it had to be moved out of his way. Now the paint is dry and it is time to move it back and I am determined to do what I didn't have to do when all that stuff was behind closed doors.
Get rid of it.
I started by filling six 33-gallon garbage bags and hauling them to the curb and to Goodwill, and I felt almost dizzy with relief. A psychologist would tell me that's because that stuff was taking up as much room in my head as it was in the back of the basement.
Our attachment to stuff is complex.
We keep some of it because it reminds us of pleasant times — all the children's art projects and the toddler outfits they wore at Christmas.
We keep other stuff because we think the kids might want it some day — yearbooks and trophies. Or need it someday — crock pots, coffee makers and sets of dinnerware. Or because a new generation will want to play with it one day — American Girl dolls and Legos.
We keep stuff so that we are prepared for anything — light bulbs, batteries and extra serving platters. Crab mallets and cake carriers. All that old paint. Duplicate bottles of cleaning supplies, suntan lotion and hotel bathroom samples.
But some of the stuff we keep is actually toxic because it makes us anxious or depressed. Boxes of photos that haven't been sorted, the needlework project I started for my brother-in-law's wedding — more than 20 years ago.
I would nip into the back basement for a can of tomato sauce or a roll of paper towels, but I couldn't stand to be in there for more than a minute because I could hear all that stuff calling my name. Each possession was making its own demand. Use me! Finish me! Sort me! Throw me away! Make a decision about me!
It could be weeks before all that stuff piled in the family room is sorted, stored or thrown out. I made the easy decisions first. Vinyl records, cassette tapes, plastic flowers, chipped vases.
But I know things will get tough soon. Baby blankets and Joe's first library book bag. The dress Jessie wore as a flower girl and the dress she wore to her prom. The "GI Joseph" camouflage pants Joe wore one Halloween. The lamp that lit the nursery so long ago. The knit caps they wore right after they were born.
But I am looking at this as more than a housekeeping project. I need to free myself from all the possessions that are, literally, weighing me down. I need to let go, too, of regrets and fears and the other useless emotions that are crowding me out of my own head, but I will start with the stuff in the back basement.
I set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes each day and focus like a laser on one pile at a time. I don't give myself time to reminisce or to second-guess myself. If I haven't worn it, repaired it, used it, opened it or finished it, it goes.
I don't make elaborate donation plans, and I am not having a yard sale. It is garbage or it goes to Goodwill. I will keep some mementos, but not every last one of them. Unless there is a Heisman Trophy in that box of sports hardware, it all goes.
There is a lot of talk these days about how it is experiences — not possessions — that make us happy. More stuff doesn't fill us with contentment, the people we love do.
There's just one stumbling block on the path to my unburdening — my husband. He finds it remarkable that I can let go of his possessions so much easier than I can let go of my own.
And he tells me I don't want to be one of those mothers who never lives down the fact that she threw out all the baseball cards.
Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.