Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Getting Rid of My Stuff

I’ve got to get rid of a lot of my stuff. I am a far cry from those hoarders you see on television, where family members and caring neighbors have to crawl over trash and clothing from the 1970s to get through the living room to the cockroach-infested, garbage-filled kitchen, but whenever I do my weekly “straightening up” it seems there’s more of it to move out of sight in order for the place to look good.

I get rid of unwanted mail right away, no problem. And magazines and newspapers go to the recycle bin on a regular basis. I’ve greatly improved on my closets, using the rule that if I buy a new outfit/pair of shoes/purse, etc., the older version must be donated to charity. What I do not yet have under my control are the things I collect from club meetings ~ notebooks containing meeting minutes, reports and attachments to agendas that have been generated from elsewhere (hence the hard copies); general memorabilia that I pull out while I’m working on my genealogy (three large binders contain my ancestors’ stories); and the constant regurgitation of my computer printer which produces hard copies of emails or web site articles that I absolutely must have at hand should I need to prove that I indeed do have total recall. But all of this can no longer be hidden away for lack of room and my questionable memory of where I put them. Things are getting ‘way out of control.

When my dear mother came to live with me at the age 80, everything she possessed was condensed down to several pieces of furniture, her clothes, and personal mementos. As I was newly divorced at the time and without a dining room table, chairs, her bedroom set and a few knickknacks, the furniture was immediately put to good use. Her clothes fit right into the closet in her new bedroom down the hall from mine. Her memorabilia fit neatly above her clothes in several boxes on a shelf in the same closet. Oh, and she brought me some of my stuff that I had left behind when I got married years before. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that at some point she got rid of her stuff before the movers transported her possessions to her new home and me. In just a little more than 10 years from now, I will be approaching the age my mother was when she tackled her stuff, and I fear there is not enough time for me to reach that same point of perfection ~ definitely, the clock is loudly ticking and I’m getting a bit nervous.

I recently spent the morning in the home of a fellow club member during a board meeting. All of us sat with our three-inch thick binders precariously balanced on our laps. I could not see that she had any stuff, other than about three pages of papers in her hand as she conducted the meeting. Surely somewhere in her home has got to be a room sequestered behind closed doors at all times for fear that the stuff within will spill out into the house that looks like a model home ~ because my spare bedroom would have to be the depository in my home should I hold a meeting with 15 clubwomen in my living room. But then, when I toss my stuff into that bedroom to prepare for guests, it takes me several days to sort everything back into order once again. It’s a problem, and of course after every meeting I attend I get more stuff to bring home ~ and I usually receive a certain email that I must command my printer to do its magic and produce for me in order for me to place it in one of my many important “To-Do” folders on my desk (because out of sight for me is out of mind). If I collected all the pages I’ve printed in the last two months, I’d have back an entire ream of paper ~ this time covered with thousands of little black letters of the alphabet that help keep me on top of things.

Then there is the all-important genealogy information that my children ~ actually, more than likely my grandchildren ~ will treasure for years to come just knowing that I was able to go back a couple of hundred years, or in some cases four centuries, to discover their ancestors. There are three large binders, as I said earlier, containing hundreds of pages each ~ which I believe multiply like rabbits when I’m not watching and some of their offspring are identical twins and even triplets. Whenever I break through a brick wall (a common genealogy term meaning finally finding a new or heretofore missing link in the family chain of events that leads to even more ancestors), more pages are generated by the Old Faithful printer and get placed in one of the binders.

The high school reunion I attended this past year had me going to the boxes in the attic where my four high school yearbooks and a multitude of memories had been slumbering. The reunion committee thoughtfully provided each of us a very thick and very valuable memory book that shows pictures of nearly everyone I ever knew from childhood as they once were and as they are now, along with their (sometimes extensive) biographies. There are now five books that barely need a narrative from me to explain my life in the late 1950s. They have yet to make their way back to the box in the attic. Perhaps one reason is that when I get up there I’ll find more of my stuff.

All the slides I took in the 50s through the 70s along with about 10 photo albums I consider my memorabilia and I think they are expected to survive me ~ certainly they are of some interest to my descendants? Agreed, the club stuff can go one day. But as far as the contents of my computer ~ oh, I do not want to go there! It takes me a whole morning, every few weeks, just to delete old emails. Please do not ask me about all those computer files that are each packed with a burgeoning number of documents that were at least once upon a time so very important to me. Did I mention the 2000 photos also lodged in My Pictures file that include documentation of many wonderful trips as well as my five grandchildren and how they grew?

I like to think that some of this stuff is worthy of saving. But it’s probably not. My grandparents didn’t leave much in the way of documentation of their lives, save the family bibles, and definitely never gave a thought to saving anything of their parents either (if they had, I wouldn’t have to spend untold hours unearthing so very little that barely suggests what their lives were like). Those people came in and left this world, barely documented. Why can’t I do the same?

I start to look around at friends and acquaintences and I see that I am not alone with this dilemma, which is misleadingly comforting.

Safe to say, in a mere 20 years I will be nearly 90 years old and ready for “the home.” At the very least, “What To Do About Mom?” will be a topic of conversation in my daughters’ households. What they are not aware of now ~ and perhaps, if I get going with my resolution, they won’t ever need to know ~ is that they may have to additionally wonder about “What To Do With Mom’s Stuff?” and the moving van they might be required to hire to come and cart it all away.