A few weeks back, the Colby Art Museum had its first Community Day since the pandemic hit. The museum is always free, but on Community Day they throw a party. There was food, a great street band from Portland, art activities for kids, and what was billed as an “Emotional Value Auction.” The press release used the words “Safe place, validation, and emotion.” I planned to avoid it. One winter years ago I was the passenger in a car with a friend who was a nervous winter driver. When I offered to drive, she said, no she needed to do it sometime. My response was, “Why? I never plan on talking about my feelings.” Thus my intended avoidance of the auction.

An Emotional Value Auction works like this. Folks who are looking to pass something along write up a short description of the item, how it came to them, why they held onto it, and why it’s time to let it go. There was a beautiful set of china passed to someone from their aunt, but never used. Things people had stolen years ago — cameras from their college art department, tea kettles from camps — that they wanted out of their life. Jeans that will never fit again, T-shirts from events they had organized, bikes they meant to fix, frames they meant to fill with art. There were license plates from cars driven away from bad relationships. To bid on an item, you wrote why you’d like it. No money changed hands. The idea was to release an object but let its history travel with it on its next chapter. As with many things

I make ridiculous judgments about based on nothing other than a wealth of ignorance, I was way wrong about the auction. It was brilliant.

Why is it so hard to let go of stuff? I’m being literal here, not talking about emotional baggage, just plain old stuff. For me, it’s equal parts thrifty and greedy. It wouldn’t be an issue if I enjoyed clutter, but I don’t. I love the idea of being able to fit all my belongings in a small car with plenty of room left for a friend with a picnic basket, but if I were to move, a 28-foot box truck is closer to the truth.

I actually did move not too long ago. It was a great opportunity to get rid of stuff I didn’t need or want. I use the same techniques to winnow down my belongings as I do when faced with needing to remove a structure from a jobsite, or find a home for excess building materials. It’s a tiered approach. The first tier involves selling what you can. This is followed by giving stuff away. My favorite way to do this is to put things by the road with a “Free” sign. If what’s being given away is larger, like a structure, or components of a structure that will need to be removed by the person taking them, word of mouth is the tool of choice. I need to feel confident that the removal process won’t become a liability. That the folks taking the stuff have the skills to do it without getting hurt or being in my way. Once I’ve sold or given away anything I can, next up is recycling. The final option is trash.