Life Notes: Over-Stuffed
Pangs and perspective on paring down

Over the last few years, I’ve warned many friends to be super careful about what they dispose of when downsizing. Sometimes you make poor decisions in the rush to cut through the overwhelming clutter that seems to weigh down so many lives − including mine.

You want to purge the old and not pay hefty moving fees to simply cart around the stuff you never needed in the first place and don’t want to look at anymore. Been there, done that.

Yes, I’m that woman who can’t drive past a yard sale. That same woman who has a basement full of the flotsam and jetsam of my own and of other people’s lives. But here’s the flip side.

As moving day drew closer a dozen years ago, I was more and more frantic about the purges. So I let a good and firm friend with no emotional attachment to my things guide me. It was like a scene from a bad movie as she divided the pieces of our lives into categories. The main one: Never needed in the first place, will never need in the future. She was ruthless.

Those judgment calls cost me sleepless nights, anxiety and a strictly psychosomatic rash.

My husband, blessed with the ability to make decisions wisely and quickly, did his purges without blinking. Tossing out the offending items not needed then – or now – went quickly for him. He did deliberate over his Air Force uniforms, which would clearly never be needed again, but held such memories. In the end, out they went. That parting was his only later regret.

My verdicts over everything, from slightly scorched potholders to the dresses I wore to each of our daughters’ college graduations caused debilitating indecision. Each one seemed to have “special” emblazoned across it. Each one brought back the strains of  “Pomp and Circumstance” and those emotional tugs at a parent’s heart.

I kept them all.

And now to the short list of regrets. The actual ones would take up several pages of this magazine:

The hideous tray from my Aunt Minnie and Uncle Harry, people I loved dearly, went to Goodwill. It was my last tangible reminder of them, and I wince when I think of how ceremoniously it was presented to us. They are long gone, but my guilt lingers.

Postcards from my late father, crumbling with age, but a reminder of the summers we spent at the Shore while he labored at his law office back in Philadelphia. He sent those postcards to my sister and me addressed to “Dear Sweeties.” What was I thinking when I let them go?

My college English Lit papers, laboriously typed back in the pre-computer days, examining Wordsworth, the symbolism of James Joyce and a lengthy term paper on the impact of the romantic poets. But how I labored over those papers, and how I wish I had held on to those papers as a touchstone to this English major’s early romance with words.

These days when I’m down in our still-overstuffed basement, I often take a sweeping glance at all that I didn’t discard and sigh. “Too muchness” is a condition from which I suffer, along with so many others. I can’t even bear to think of plowing through it when and if we move again.

And then my eyes will wander to rows of cardboard boxes with labels only we really understand. In one of those cartons are Nancy’s wedding veil and wedding shoes, swathed in layers of tissue paper. In another is my maternal grandmother’s primitive recipe file.

In a back corner of the basement is the “Attorney at Law” nameplate from the desk of my husband’s first law office. Nearby is my scrapbook from third grade, complete with a picture I had drawn called “My Howse.”

Yes, we can easily live without all of these things. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I know to ask that most important question of all: Why in the world should we?

July 2016
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