How Clearing Out My Parent’s Garage Brought Me New Clarity on Life

Releasing the Stuff to Find True Meaning

Mary Clymer
5 min readSep 12, 2023

Over the past two weeks, I have been cleaning out my parent’s garage. 30 years of memories backed into a 400-square-foot space. Boxes stacked and labeled with items shoved in between, each filled with memories of a time long forgotten. A mountain of memories to be seen and felt as decisions were made on whether we keep or pass along the treasures inside. I knew I was undertaking a huge task, but I didn’t expect the clarity that would follow.

I remember the moment of clarity. It was found in a gray Tupperware box hidden behind a blanket-wrapped mirror that sat under three identical boxes stacked one on top of the next. At the very top was one very old and very dusty antique light fixture crowning this totem of buried treasures.

I began to go through these boxes one by one. Decision fatigue started to set in; Do I keep this, donate it, or throw it away? And if I was keeping it, why? It has been sitting in a forgotten box in the garage for years! Clearly, this isn’t something we need.

But when you find yourself clearing out a room that holds memories attached to family, vacations, and friends from another time all of it feels important.

Each memento is a symbol of accomplishment, connection, and youth. So each item deserves a moment.

I open the grey tupperware and it feels and smells different from the rest. Many of the items made no sense. Why would my Dad have hung onto a random red blanket, his father’s old dictionary, or 30 copies of his sister’s wedding invitations from 50 years ago? It made no sense.

Then I saw it. I knew the moment the handle came into view.

My grandmother’s navy blue purse.

This wasn’t my Dad’s box of memories, it was my grandfather’s. Memories my dad inherited and left untouched in a box in the garage.

A tidal wave of time blew through me. A wonderful and accomplished man (who’s been dead for 20 years) life condensed to a box of photos, clippings, and the purse of the women he loved. Memories that he, and now my Dad couldn’t find a way to let go.

I thought about my grandparents. Full, rich lives that are now nothing more than a memory. I thought about my parent’s lives and all they had done, accomplished, and given. I thought about my life, the many people, travels, and moments, now just memories and mementos I held onto.

And I thought, why?

All of this is just stuff. It holds only the value we place on it.

Having these things tucked away for someone to reminisce about thirty years later doesn’t change a thing. Not the memories we hold, not the person they were. So why do we hold on to these items for someone else to muddle through and throw away?

Inside the purse was nothing of significance. Nothing but old receipts and half a stick of gum. I held it. I remember it clearly filled with my grandma’s ring of keys, crackers (just in case), and her fancy 3 pronged pen. I understood why Papa couldn’t get rid of the old tattered thing. I even understood why my dad probably couldn’t.

So I did.

Into the donation pile it went.

And it stung.

I knew it wasn’t my relic to throw away and yet somehow I knew I must. For there are so many things and moments that make up a life and a purse is just a holding space for things.

I realized as I tossed the purse for someone else to discover that this storage space was like this purse: nothing more than a holding space.

Things come and go. People come and go. 50 years from now your own life will be reduced to a box in someone’s garage. But the memory of who you were, of the lives you touched, of all the good you put into this world, those memories can’t be kept in a box.

The true memory of who you are will live on through the following generations of people whose lives you touched. Through the impact you had in your community. Through the way you choose to live.

Your life, my life, all our lives are nothing more than a telling of who people were at this time in history. Getting absorbed in the absurdity of it all is our life’s tale. Who we were as a collective will tell our story when we have been long forgotten. Not the stuff we attached ourselves to.

There’s a great quote from the movie Fight Club that has been living in my head this last week, “The things you own, end up owning you.”

So if you’re a sentimental being, like me, try to not get buried in the stuff. You are not your stuff. Clear space in your life. Do you and your loved ones a favor. Go through it now. Keep only what you use. Maybe a memento here and there, but only if you proudly display it. Keep the family heirlooms that are meaningful and unburden yourself with the rest.

The journey into my parent’s garage comes to an end with the clarity of living in this moment, making an impact with my presence, my voice, my commitments, not with things. Things become nothing more than a tangled web of stuff for someone else to go through.

If you find yourself staring at a mountain of stuff, remember to breathe. It didn’t accumulate in one day so give yourself time to process it all. Take care of your mental health and begin as you do all things: One step at a time.



Mary Clymer

Breathwork Coach, Pulmonaut Explorer, & Content Creator. Taking it one breath at a time. Join me at