Here’s my confession: I have stuff. Lots of it.
My garage is currently an archeology expedition undertaken to create a space in which my son can build an airplane. Yes, really. It will be a model airplane but a large one, allegedly with detachable wings—and this is for his job. So, garage cleaning must happen, mortifying or not; overwhelming or not; dizzyingly dusty or not.
And WHY, the clinician in me asks, must so many of us (or at least me and my family) collect so much stuff in the first place?
I probably do have a packrat gene in my body somewhere, inherited from descendants of crowded attics and crammed steamer trunks. I can fall back upon that old excuse. You know; immigrant ancestors passing through Ellis Island to settle in the U.S. with the worthy goal of not needing to move anything ever again. Keeping their piles of stuff together must have felt like roots growing under the earth, connected, stable. Reassuring. All of life’s disparate pieces forever reached; touchable and beloved. And why not? At some point in time and space, each object brought joy.
But what about now? What to do with coffee table books once loved by my brilliant father, gifted to my son, or left behind by a great love? I have one coffee table and 95 coffee table books. I have boxes of costumes—pink superwoman capes, orange pumpkin hats, and green elf shoes—and multiple boxes of holiday decorations—fake poinsettia plants that promise not to kill the cats, snowmen with eyes or buttons missing, a lovely Hannukah menorah with melted candles wedged inside so tightly we can’t pry them loose with a knife. There are precious hand-knitted lace bedspreads peppered with moth holes, painted gourds losing their lovely figures, cute satin dresses I will never fit into, and a fur coat that’s hardy enough for winter in Siberia. I have a box of folded notes scrawled by my preteen BFF and passed back and forth in the 7th grade. There are also VHS tapes and unopened packs of scotch tape, useless miniature recorders, wonderfully timeless music albums, and endless photos of people I will always love and have never really known.
There are too many shelves for one house; too much camping equipment for someone who prefers luxury hotels; and a few toys and other reminders of childhood that I can’t bear to part with. A yellow critter, for example, that winds up to sing, keeping baby calm; a baseball hat from T-ball, which The Boy hated from day one; and all the cards and notes and secret messages stuck on bookmarks, and kitchen scraps, and abandoned notebooks.
Just take a picture of everything, people say. Remember that way. Thank whatever thing tugs at you and say goodbye. Or hold it and weigh the current joy. But let it go. Give it away. Throw it out. Crumple it up or label it and stick it in a file. Sob it through. Smile at what was, laugh at the absurd clinging, and dance at my own imminent release.
Just make space for the damn airplane, for Pete’s sake (rather, for Cody’s sake).
Yet, my nerves still wonder: What does one do with a brand-new toilet never used, the 53 stacks of construction paper and googly eyes awaiting inspiration, and—most of all—Grandpa’s 19th century wingchair, on which he spoke his greatest wisdom to me before dying of old age? “When everything else goes, you can always learn,” he said.
Well, I’m still not sure about the toilet. But the construction paper I rather like…and I’m getting that wingchair reupholstered, and it will look gorgeous.
So, take that, garage. A little compromise would be nice.