It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m crying about the turquoise blue water bottle sitting on the table in front of me. The water bottle doesn’t have a top. It’s missing the straw as well. It’s beaten up and has a plasticy smell that never goes away. It’s covered in stickers that have faded so much that it’s hard to tell what they once promoted. I haven’t used this water bottle since 2013, but the thought of throwing it away is heartbreaking. It needs to go, but I can hardly bare it. I’m crying actual tears over a water bottle. I’m pretty sure my husband thinks I’ve finally lost it. Maybe I have.
I love to clean. Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed I tackle a messy drawer or closet shelf. Not everyone agrees, but I find it cathartic to get rid of things. I like having nice possessions, but only if they’re useful. It makes me sad to have lovely things that aren’t being used to their potential. So why in the world was this water bottle making me cry?
I got that water bottle my first year of college. It came everywhere with me for four years. I brought it to every class. It was the first thing I wanted when I finished my first marathon. It came with me to Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, London and Paris. It had collected stickers and scrapes along the way, each one a unique snapshot of my life at the time. I LOVED that water bottle. Is it dramatic to say it felt like a part of me? Because it truly did.
After graduation, when I started my first job, it was clear the water bottle needed to be traded in for something my boss wasn’t embarrassed for me to have at a business meeting. I put it on a shelf in the kitchen cabinets, and didn’t think about it. I packed it up and moved it when we bought our house, and there it sat until that Saturday morning.
Our cupboard was packed with mugs and water bottles. It was out of control and it was driving me insane. I hate packed cupboards. I like to have white space in my life. Everything has an exact place and that exact place is easily accessible. I didn’t like opening that cupboard door to grab my coffee mug every morning and seeing bottles and mugs piled on top of each other, looking as if they might cascade unto my tired self if anything moved too suddenly. Something had to be done.
My husband watched as I threw several mugs and many plastic water bottles into a donate bin, all the while ranting about the perils of collecting free stuff we didn’t need. I was a clutter clearing machine. When I’m in this mood, nothing is safe. It’s not a time to be sentimental, or so I thought. That turquoise blue water bottle stopped me in my tracks.
“I just can’t get rid of this,” I cried.
“Then keep it,” My husband said, overwhelmed by my sudden outburst.
“But I’m not going to use it. It’s just taking up space. I just can’t believe I’ve gotten to this point…”
“Sydney, what are you talking about?”
I wasn’t crying about not using the water bottle. I was crying because the girl who used that water bottle everyday seemed like a long forgotten acquaintance, someone I would hardly recognize anymore. That water bottle had stickers from ski resorts, marathons, flags from countries I might never visit again. It was banged and bruised from being thrown into a backpack every morning, ready to seize the day with me. How long had it been since I’d seized a day? I haven’t been skiing in years. When I was abroad I hiked up mountains and swam with sharks. When was the last time I had stayed up past my bedtime without whining about it?
My life has changed since college. Of course it has. And it’s a beautiful, wonderful life. But that water bottle made me realize I have become less adventurous. I love my routines, but maybe I was a little stuck in them. Maybe I needed to remember that being curious and feeling so free wasn’t exclusive to my college years. I could feel those feelings again. I threw the water bottle away. I thanked it for so many great years, and for reminding me of a slightly different version of myself.
This is the beauty of spring cleaning. Mostly it’s just culling the stuff you’ve collected that you’d forgotten you had. Maybe you don’t need that lamp you used everyday at one point. Maybe you never needed that odd but well intentioned wedding gift from your great aunt. And I don’t need that water bottle, but I did need a reminder to take myself less seriously. Message received.
If you're curious, this is my beloved water bottle. I'm glad I took the photo!