Growing up, I battled constantly with my mom over my stuff and whether to give it up. Fourteen-year-old me counted herself as a firm “nay.”
And actually, I still don’t think I was coming from a place of excess. Not by American standards. So what if I wanted to hang on to my participation trophies from piano competitions? We had a basement, for Pete’s sake.
It got to the point where I dreaded every time my mom suggested we go to my room. I knew what was coming, and she had a good trump card: “Someday, when you have to go through this house, you’ll be glad there’s less stuff in it.”
Someday, as in when your father and I are dead, you’ll be happy there’s not a whole bunch of crap for you to sort through.
Dark thoughts for a kid who just wanted her piano recital memories, Mom. The memories of having participated.
There is a bright side, in that I now 100 percent see her point and look forward to one day foisting this mildly obsessive behavior onto my own kids. As I’ve gotten older, my mother’s influence has really taken root. These days I can’t even stand the word knickknack. So excessive, what with those two silent k’s.
Another way of looking at it: My mom was ahead of her time. Anyone heard of a little New York Times best-seller called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Look, no book reviewer’s going to tell you this, but that book basically boils down to one point: Get rid of your shit.
In fact, the root system of my mother’s influence is well-established by now. I’m ahead of my time, too, which is why I have two adult breakfast cereal bowls in my house and refuse to buy more. When they are broken, we will buy two more. One for my husband and one for me. The two of us.
In this vein, there’s a condition called Spartanism, which is the opposite of hoarding. I’m not suggesting that I have it. But wouldn’t it be so great if I did? True, some people really suffer a severe form of this thing and go to the store to buy stuff and immediately throw it away. But other people just have the mild version, where they can’t stand clutter or the sight of unread emails in their inbox. I can’t stand the sight of unread emails in my inbox! So basically they’re just people with very tidy, very organized personalities. They are like me, only brighter, shinier and lighter-weight.
What if I could get that? Really get it, and not just be good at deleting my own emails. It would be like training your cat to use its litter box over the toilet! Like teaching your cereal bowl to dance itself over to the dishwasher!
When they come out with that, we can get new cereal bowls.
Unfortunately for my husband, my kids are too young to properly sort through their belongings (the piles are Keep, Trash and Goodwill and must ascend in size in that order), so he bears the brunt of my need to purge.
Our local Goodwill really, really likes my husband.
They love me. I am very often, very promptly there when they open on Saturdays.
I do have one weakness, and that is books. I can’t throw them away. I have a book in Slovenian that I’ll never learn to read, and it’s staying. Its cover is torn, and lest that make it sound sexy, please know that it’s not sexy in the slightest. I think the art’s a neon, slanted, abstract picture of a girl’s face, though gender here is dubious. For better or worse, it lives in my living room, where it always will, until I die and my kids have to sort through my crap.
To purge, to rid, to divest. It’s en vogue! On my block, you can’t spit without hitting a yard sale on a Saturday. Can’t wait until Saturday? Just haul your trash to the curb and slap on a sign that says “free.” It’s the new Craigslist. This week alone: two armoires, one Weber grill, a smattering of nightstands, one electric wheelchair.
Actually, I almost went for that last one. Those things cost, like, $1,500—and think how much faster I could whiz around, collecting junk to throw out. Old papers! Old school supplies! That one extra cereal bowl! It’s not like we ever eat breakfast at the same time.
Unlike my mother’s, our house does not have a basement. I love that about it so much. What’s a basement? Unless you’re a real estate agent, unless you’re some low-lying breed of nobility, unless you think in terms of a house’s potential for a media room or home theater, a basement is just a battleground for spiders, mold and excess. Probably spiders and mold crawling all over your excess. Yeah, you thought you liked that bedframe. Just how much?
I lied earlier about only having the one weakness. By my count, I have three of them: books, my son and my daughter. It’s not fair, what I’m going to do to them one day, when I sit them down and order them to select their donations to Goodwill. Because at present, we get them so much crap.
And I try so hard not to. For my son’s birthday this year, my husband and I promised each other we wouldn’t get him any gifts. It was so great. Instead of gifts, we rented a bounce house and a bubble machine. We threw him a party with all his wobbly, weird toddler friends. But my daughter’s birthday is only three weeks after my son’s, and she’s only turning 1 this year, so she doesn’t have any friends. I mean, don’t feel bad for her. It’s just at that age they don’t have the mental capacity for that kind of relationship, so she sticks close to us and that suits her needs.
I felt bad for her.
But my daughter already has so many toys. Where do they come from, the toys? I did not buy all of them. I did not buy most of them. I suppose some were given as gifts, some hand-me-downs. But mostly I look at our playroom and everything blurs together in a rainbow-hued, sticky haze. The toys converge and contract in the night, and in the morning, there’s more of them.
So we definitely don’t have room for a huge smiling teddy bear with kind eyes and plush fur, with a lap perfect for curling up on and reading board books and taking afternoon naps. A bear who measures 53 inches high and—hey, now that we’re counting, we do have 53 inches.
Alright, yes. I do buy some toys.
But it balances out because I make room for the books and the toys and the piano-participation trophies by getting rid of the untouched clothes and appliances and gardening equipment and the recorder-participation trophies because I do not cherish those memories in the slightest. You can find at least some of them at our Goodwill, on the corner of Lomond Drive and Sudley Road in Manassas.
Or six months from now, you can visit that Goodwill, expecting to find a giant, plush, grinning teddy bear.
We don’t have a basement! It can’t stay here.