Sunday, July 31, 2011

Too much stuff

I have a confession to make.

I am a fourth generation pack rat. After my great-grandmother passed away in 2004 (at 109!), it was discovered that an upstairs room in her home (the rest of which, at least in my memory, was pretty spotlessly neat) was filled to the brim with old things, piles of clothes, old coffee tins (from the 20s and 30s) and who knows what else stuffed cheek-by-jowl into a tiny bedroom and its adjacent closet. Her eldest son, my grandfather, was also a saver, most likely as a result of the living through the Great Depression, holding on to things because they might, someday, have value or be of use to somebody. He was also a fixer, and, after he retired from the Navy, would often buy broken things (radios, drills, etc..) at the PX and fix them, then give them away. Most of the excess stuff was relegated to the attic or a large barn he built in their second back yard, but it was still there.

Naturally, my father inherited it from him. Because my grandparents died tragically, my dad tends to hold on to things that were theirs, regardless of the fact that certain items are beyond useless (a 1960s behemoth of an adding machine that must weigh at least 20 pounds, for example, and rightly belongs in a museum). My mother has to practically sneak bags of donations out of the house, because he'll go through them, saying "someone can use/wear this," despite the fact that no one has worn it in 10-odd years or it's been gathering dust. But he's getting better. Recently, we cleaned out a storage unit filled with things from my grandparent's house. Over half the contents were donated or thrown away. Progress.

While I'm far from being a hoarder, I also have the tendency to hold on to things, mostly because they have sentimental value. At the same time, I realize things are not people and that memories can serve. Looking for a certain notebook this morning with the eye to writing a completely different blog post, I realized I'd gone through several different drawers without being able to find it (I still don't know where it's wandered off to), and that most of the things in those drawers were completely useless (a reporter's notebook filled with meeting notes from 2005, old copies of Magnificat that are three years old, back issues of magazines that could easily be recycled, cassette tapes from the early 90s --"Rattle and Hum," anyone?) and need to be tossed or donated posthaste. I also have far more dishes and flatware than a single woman really requires.

And I'll admit I'm not the most organized of girls, but have I aspirations. :) I long for a clutter-free home, and make a concerted effort to donate items several times a year. A move would be the ideal way to cull junk I've accumulated over the nearly six years I've been in my apartment, but that doesn't seem in the cards right now. My brother, Daniel, who moved across country to Oregon about five years ago, took only several large suitcases with him when he left, and is scrupulous about keeping too many things out of his house that don't serve a purpose by being there. He's proof that the pack-rat gene can be conquered, and it gives me hope. :)

I read in a magazine not too long ago that a good exercise one family used when they realized they had too much stuff was to play a game they called "We're moving to Europe." The idea being, rather obviously, to imagine that you're making a transatlantic move and can only take so much with you, making getting rid of dead weight imperative. Perhaps it's something I should try.

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