Sunday, February 15, 2009

Trash and Treasure

While a ten yard dumpster sits in my driveway because of some repairs, I am taking advantage of it to dispense with clutter as well. The question is how to define clutter. Some choices are simple: a torn up carpet goes in the dumpster, a commendation letter to my dad (WW2 Merchant Marine) signed by Harry Truman stays. Some are not.

I am not really a pack rat by nature. However, after more than five decades of life, and as the sole surviving member of my immediate family living in my family home, my garage, basement, attic and closets inevitably have filled with my own and inherited items, nearly all of uncertain value, even the sentimental kind. What to do with the perfectly good (old but not antique) tables and chairs which I remember from my childhood but for which there is simply no room in the present living space? What to do with the childhood toys of my sister (d.1995)? We're not talking about a vintage Barbie here or something else with any value for a collector, nor are there complete sets of anything suitable for re-gifting to some other young girl. Yet the remaining hodge-podge is still hard to throw away. What of boxes of photographs of people I barely know? What of ribbons from long forgotten horse shows and vinyl albums from long forgotten bands?

I've seen garages more overstuffed than mine. I have an easier task than some because my mom was not a pack rat either. In fact, her advice to me always was, "When in doubt, throw it out." She felt that people tend to drown in their own accumulated clutter and that it was better to keep life (and moving, should that be necessary) simple. Sometimes her decisions were, in retrospect, ruthless, as with the disposal of my first edition Marvel comics back before they were worth more than the cover price. Other times they were simply surprising. For example, she kept her 1947 wedding dress until my dad died in 2000; though she had made no comment about it, it was not in the drawer where she always had kept it when the time came to deal with her effects. Still, even she couldn't stop the slow material build-up which is now mine to re-assess belatedly.

I think my mom's philosophy was, on balance, the correct one. There are mementos which I want to keep on hand, but sentiment doesn't really reside in objects, especially unused or barely used ones. The dumpster will be full and there will be furniture at the curb for passersby to pick through before pick-up day this week. Throwing out when in doubt is a memento of sorts too.

Now if I only can fend off the friends with overflowing garages and eyes on my emerging free space.

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