One thing that irks me, here at my childhood home, and which I am trying to effect some positive change in, is the amount of clutter in my parents house. Bottles of toiletries so old they are caked in dust; tupperware with no lids; lids with no tupperware; books from the 80’s that have been made obsolete by the internet; all of these things get under my skin when I see them.
If you were to peek into this house at any given time (after noon), on any day of the week, there is at least a 40% chance that you would find me lecturing my mother about the need to get rid of things. I don’t take this holier-than-thou queen-of-all-decluttering tack because I am somehow neat by nature. Far from it. Most of it stems from fighting the packrat gene in myself, in the same way that former smokers always hint-cough loudest when sitting next to someone publicly enjoying a cigarette. You sense they are afraid that the proximity to smoke will invite a relapse. Perhaps I fear similar encroachment from my own demons.
My room is an odd archaeological case study on pack rat-ism. It’s reasonably neat at the moment, but still full of many, many things I haven’t touched in the last 18 years. I’ve managed a few small steps forward since I’ve been home – tearing up love notes from high school, clearing out a junk drawer. Giving away old track meet t-shirts that were souvenirs, but that I have no desire to ever again wear. But there’s still a long ways to go. If someone had torched the room while I was living on the other side of the country the last 10 years, I’d be hard pressed to tell you what I lost, but when face to face with long held (not necessarily even long treasured) items from childhood, the nostalgia makes it really hard to let go.
I have a shelf the length of my room that is lined with stuffed animals – some that I’ve had since before kindergarten.
Know why I can’t give them away?
I imagine they have feelings.
The same way I did as a little girl. I kid you not. Feelings.
I visualize them in a give-away box feeling lonely and abandoned, or being mistreated by some unappreciative kid who inherits them by way of the Goodwill. It makes me sad, so here they stay.
I still have racing spikes from college too. I don’t think those have feelings. Keeping those, I think, can be attributed to nostalgia for the glory days of college when I could truthfully and almost credibly refer to myself as “an athlete.” But I haven’t raced in over a decade, haven’t even set foot on an actual track in at least that long, and will probably be kicked immediately out of the YMCA should I ever hop on their treadmill wearing spikes.
Though I’m not sure whether this makes me a hypocrite or the best possible candidate for clutter police, I still try to encourage my Mom to tackle the issue. I genuinely feel that a fresh set of eyes picks up the things that shouldn’t be there when eveyone else has grown accustomed to looking over them.
I recently found, in a stack of cookie sheets and tv trays, 2 glass microwave turntables – sans microwaves. I put on my best catholic school nun voice and asked my mom why we have these. I succeed in reverting her to defensive child … “Well, because, because…we could use them as trays or something….” Then she snaps out of it and calls me on my attitude. I win and get to deposit the turntables into the recycling bin, but not before she picks one and swaps it for the non- spinning one currently on the one microwave that we do have. Now the turntable turns again. I catch myself briefly thinking that it is a good thing they kept them, but I would NEVER say so. Then, annoyed at my lapse to the other side, I come up with a counterpoint: the non-rotating turntable was likely the result of somebody putting the wrong one in there to begin with because the mere existence of multiple turntable options allowed for a confusion that should never have been. The thought that went into saving them baffles me. I’m surprised the cord of the dead microwaves were not chopped off and saved “in case a lamp cord wears out” or the doors removed from hinges to become, I don’t know, more tv trays or a sun hat or something.
My Dad’s not really part of the de-cluttering conversation. He doesn’t seem concerned about either the clutter or the philosophical & psychological meanings of our attachment to things. He’s busy patting himself on the back because he had the good sense to keep a pair of corduroys for 20 yrs and has just discovered he can wear them again. I consider that idea a dangerous first step onto a slippery slope that begins with a “new” pair of pants and ends with the house becoming an above-ground landfill, so I scold him with narrowed, skeptical eyes. “That is the EXCEPTION, not the rule!” I bark, as if being lectured by his baby daughter will scare depression era habits in practice for over 70 years right out of him just like that.
My Mom and I will soldier on.