Monday, March 14, 2011

Trash Talk

I’ve got too much Stuff. Really, it’s s not my fault though. The leopard-patterned silk scarf and hard-boiled-egg slicer just entered the house one day, found places for themselves and never left. They settled in, making perfectly comfortable homes for themselves. They’re so quiet and soft-spoken, I hardly know they’re there.

Yes, I’ve become an enabler. But what am I suppose to do? I don’t have the heart to face the multi-coloured wool shawl I crocheted thirty-five years ago and haven’t worn since. What am I suppose to say? ‘You no longer mean anything to me? I never thought I’d say this, but I can live without you? You’re outa here?. Good-by and good riddance?’

Yep, that’s exactly what I’m suppose to say, but I don’t have the guts. Too much anxiety. I hate confrontations. What if I’m making a mistake and change my mind? Can I get you back? All this angst over a half-embroidered pillow case I was making as a wedding present for a niece who’s been married eight years now and has two kids, the oldest being six?

It’s nuts, I know.  So, I’m going to change. We have a very small house. Spring is coming and there’s something about spring. And, this is no small thing, Both Oprah magazine and Canadian Style and Home devoted their most recent issues to “de-cluttering.”  I’ve always liked to think I‘m on the cutting edge of something, so I’m going to see what I can do about this de-cluttering thing they’re talking about.

I’m feeling pretty confident. I think I can do the reqired purge. it. Damn, I know I can do it! (Dr. Drew says resolve is very important to help enablers break deeply-entrenched patterns). So I’m getting ready by walking around the house, looking at half-filled vials of out-of-date antibiotics, muttering “It’s time.”  But I haven’t made any serious moves yet. Soon, though. I’m inspired.

 One fork is easy
      To clean; Look, A single pair
               of socks – and they match!
                                                –Kristy Davis, renter of a small, single room in Brooklyn       

When I was in my 20s, I read about a guy who wanted to reduce his possessions down to 27. Perhaps he had a particular reason for choosing that number, but for some reason he didn’t explain, it was 27, not 23, 25 or 32. Though the exact number seemed arbitrary to me, the concept was appealing. He never wanted to be tied down to his possessions, and I guessed he figured that with only 27 things to look after, he could pack up and go anywhere, anytime with no fuss or bother.

I liked the non-materialist approach to life and idea of being so free. I actually thought long and hard about how I could do it. Maybe I would have had a chance before I had a family, but I tried reconsidering the thought recently, and by the time I counted my husband, two children, dog, leash, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hair products made especially for frizzy hair, my cell phone, charger, plate and a set of silverware, I was already over my quota.

Since I couldn’t make the magical number 27, I began to wonder how many possessions I actually do have. Which begs another question. In the counting, do I have to include the blackened bananas in the freezer waiting for quick breads I intend to make with them, or the baggie filled with parmesan cheese rinds I intend to pop into simmering cauldroms of minestrone soup I will, of course, be making as soon as the quick breads are out of the way?

Not sure. I'm starting to get confused. Obviously in the name of fair and unbiased journalism, Oprah's editors (who published the above quote), decided to also publish an article by a woman who LOVES being surrounded by STUFF. The mistake I made was reading it during my little pause a minute or two ago to get myself a cup of coffee (and no I didn't spill it into my computer this time. See yesterday's blog). I’m worried about the effect reading this may have on me. The author makes some very good points.

From Mary Randolph Carter, author of a A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life (Rizzoli):

…a happiness contained in all the stuff, the stuff that makes up the warmth and lived-in-ness of this 12th-story apartment, our home, filled with the clutter that is, in my mind, the poetry of our lives, the fingerprints of our experiences, the expression of our humor, the things we can’t live without: toppling-over mountains of books, walls patchworked with paintings, children’s drawings, Polaroid montages, tables embellished with waxy candle drippings, still lifes of wooden bric-a-brac, ripe wax fruit, paper poppies and dried lavender in chipped pottery and tarnished silver pitchers., sofas strewn with squishy pillows, yesterday’s newspapers, opened handwritten letters ­– the things that give shape to who we are, that reveal the moments of our lives to visiting friends, like turning the pages of a handmade scrapbook or a family album that melds past and present, opening the door to the ones we love, and showing them what we call living.

I’m now torn. Is Carter just a writer who could make a case for anything, as she so beautifully did here? Or does she have a point? I shouldn’t let her nicely-crafted spiel ruin my resolve, though. She’s probably talking more about the beauty of a pottery water jug I bought a lifetime ago on a trip to Columbia (and never used), than she is about three near-empty bottles of shampoo or the solid gold earring still sitting in my jewelry box, waiting patiently for over ten years now for its mate to return.

No, I won’t let Carter ruin my resolve, but for better or worse (most likely worse), she’s given me permission to enter  into this whole de-cluttering thing with a minimum of haste. But just to show I’m serious and still committed to chucking Stuff, I’m going to make a pledge right here and now.  I’m going to give away or throw away every non-essential item that came into my mind while writing this blog. The leopard-patterned silk scarf? Out. The granny-squared crocheted shawl?  Out. Earring and shampoo bottles?  Ancient history. Hand-painted Columbian water jug? See you at the Goodwill. Antibiotics? I no longer need you. I’ll be fine without you.

But why is it that I can’t bear to toss the bananas and parmesan? So difficult is it, I’m heading downstairs right now to bake a banana bread and start a pot of minestrone soup for dinner. Like I don’t have other things to do? It can’t just be the cost of these two items that’s throwing me. So what is it? Why is food so hard to throw out, particularly if we think it's still ‘good.’

Guess the baking and soup-making will keep me too busy to do any more decluttering today. Probably a good thing, though, since I just reread the title of Mary Carter’s book. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I had misspent my life because of my perfectly kept house. As if there was a chance.   

And the concept of ‘purging’ has such negative connotations these days, doesn’t it? Best to avoid anything too extreme.

I'll report back.



  1. pls don't throw away the letters I wrote to you 30 plus years ago, I'm counting on them to entertain me in the nursing home.

  2. Imagine this, if you will, Linda:

    Before I showed up on his doorstep, my husband had a nicely appointed home. Then his son's mother passed away and in a moment of feeling overwhelmed, they packed up her household and stuck it in the basement. Afterall, some of those memories were shared.

    Then, I moved in with many of the trappings of my home that I couldn't bear to part with. So, we have the stuffings of three households.

    Now, we're planning on moving 1500 miles away and simply can't take all this stuff with us. So, I arranged with a local charity to come every other week and pick up the stuff from the front porch. They even call and remind me two days before.

    Believe it or not, it actually feels good. We don't have to part with everything, just a few boxes of stuff at a time. Today 128 children's books that haven't been looked at in 15+ years got sent to a new home. We kept the 25 favorite for just in case we need them. The rest can bring smiling faces to a part of the city where there are not enough affordable books.

    Sometimes de-cluttering can be an act of love.