Monday, November 15, 2010

ready to purge

I am a pack rat, but I come by it honestly.

My grandmother (who cared for me every weekday until I started kindergarten) kept everything she ever touched. She filled a three-story home, floor to ceiling, with a lifetime of treasures and... other things. Every coat my mother wore in high school, every board game my uncles played with as children, every score book completed one inning at a time from the recliner in her living room... Every fishing lure my grandfather left behind when he moved out (long before I was born), every yogurt container, every box top... My grandmother had no money and she never threw away anything she thought she might use, even if it would be 10 years before it would come in handy. She was one of the most frugal, resourceful women I've ever known.

My mom taught me the joy of a sale at a young age. She was the quintessential bargain hunter. If the sale was good enough, she bought the item. It didn't matter much whether we had a use for it. She didn't teach it to me in these words, but I know she is where I learned the theory behind a particularly incriminating slogan of mine: "You're getting screwed if you DON'T buy that!" The house I grew up in had a basement storage room with plastic bins from floor to ceiling, full of nonperishables bought in bulk, holiday decorations purchased "the day after" for 75% off, gift bags and toys purchased on sale because "someone is always having a birthday." I never felt like my house was cluttered growing up. I just thought my mom was amazing because anything we could possibly need was right there under our very roof.

Our basement is much like my the one I described above. I still have every item of clothing Elliot has worn to date, except for a few pieces I loaned to friends, only after putting an initial in every tag to ensure it would find its way home. I'm harboring two matching wall hangings I bought years ago on clearance that have never been hung in this house and never will be. I have at least five times as many sheet sets as I have beds to put them on, and more towels than our family could use in a month. I cannot walk past after Christmas without buying a few rolls of wrapping paper. It's all really nice stuff.

For most of my adult life, this hasn't really been a problem. When I first moved into this 4 bedroom house all on my own, I had an abundance of space and nothing to make it homey with. It took me several years, but I eventually filled up all of the empty closets, cabinets and shelves. With Elliot's arrival and all that we brought in for him, our house officially exceeded its capacity, and it's all my fault. M doesn't have a single hoarding fiber in her entire body. Amazingly, she doesn't chastise me for the accumulation. I think she recognizes the emotional side of it and knows I need to deal with it in my own time. And I have begun, but good heavens it is a slow process. The amount of angst involved in getting rid of something inexpensive that I haven't used in years is something even I can't totally understand. All I can fall back on is the knowledge it's just not how I was raised. I was raised to keep things; to keep everything. It's my family's version of being responsible and prepared for whatever life throws at you. The problem is, I'm starting to feel a bit like I'm drowning.

In the last few months, I've become acutely aware of the weight of my possessions. Every thing I have in this house is something that must be maintained. It may be putting it away on a daily basis, shifting it once in a while to reach something else, or simply filing it once and forgetting about it, but I don't have time for extra steps anymore. Some days it is hard enough to find time to brush my teeth. Any time I might spend tending to material goods would be better spent with my child. Beyond that, I'd really like to not pass this charming characteristic down to him, and that means the time to reset my hardwiring is now.

Up until recently, I have believed to my core that the worst case scenario would be to have to re-purchase something I had and got rid of. I now realize the worst case scenario is having so much stuff that not only can I not maintain or enjoy it, its very presence causes me stress. I've taken some big steps already, but they're not nearly as big as those that still need to be taken. I've been whittling away at the edges for months, but it's time for a major cut. I feel ready - really, I do - but then I look around and I'm instantly overwhelmed. I don't know where to start, perhaps more emotionally than logistically. I know once I get some momentum behind me, it will become easier. What's the point of keeping X if I've already tossed A through W, right? It's just really hard. But it's also time.


N said...

I've done SO much better with the "not buying things we don't need" (though thrift stores will do me in, it's bad) which I'm grateful for, as it wasn't nice stuff, it was crap. But it's so so so so hard to try and get rid of stuff. I do it little by little, but we need a big purge pretty soon, and I'm not sure how that's going to go. oy.

(all of which is to say, I feel you.)

Inlocoparentis said...

This is a good post, K, although I've always loved the packrat in you. I'll always remember when you asked me for your zillion year old heating pad back like 10 years after I borrowed it and I was like, "oops . . ."