Thursday, August 4, 2005

Spring Cleaning

I'm a little late for it, I know, but lately I've had an urge to purge.

Last night I was cleaning out the closet in our guest room, and I was amazed by the things we were storing. Among the more puzzling: four to five days' worth of men's thermal underwear (we live in a relatively warm state and haven't been skiing in two years), a Halloween Afro wig, a pink and white striped cap that was too small for my head and was ugly besides, and stacks of 'important' paperwork - stacks I hadn't touched in nearly a year and never rummaged through when I was actually looking for something important.

Why do we keep so much stuff? There are five closets on our third floor alone, and three people. How can we possibly not have enough room to store things? As I hauled junk from closet corners I realized: there is a difference between not having enough closet space, and having too much stuff. We have too much stuff.

In our basement, we have four basketballs, one of which hasn't been bounceable in years. We're storing the requisite emergency canned goods and water, but we're also storing a ratty pillow we once used for camping. There are five pillows on my son's full sized bed alone; do we think we won't be able to locate another pillow for camping?

My husband has boxes upon boxes of papers from his graduate school days. I suppose he is expecting a professor to show up one day and demand he take a pop quiz. I still have the loan forms from the first car I purchased. In 1993. Which was totaled.

During a recent discussion on the ever growing square footage of the average new home, a friend announced her disdain for the popular McMansions. "I don't like big houses," she said, "because then you just feel compelled to fill them with more needless stuff."

I told her I knew exactly what she meant, and then went to make sure our collection of phone books from the past five years wasn't toppling over.

There are things in our house which are needless, but bring one of us great pleasure. I'm a mini-collector of used books, particularly the classics. My husband is fond of his back issues of the Washingtonian, and actually re-reads them. My son is in that stage of childhood where he doesn't actually play with his GI Joes, but he isn't quite ready to give them to Goodwill, either. But all of those things... treasures we don't actually need and basics we do, are dwarfed in number by the complete junk we are pushing into corners and under beds when company comes.

I wonder what the psychology of the pack rat is. When my son was little, he couldn't leave the house without taking something with him. Even if it was the severed leg of an action figure, he would hold it in his hands tightly until we returned back home. I read that toddlers do that because they haven't yet grasped the concept of leaving and returning home, and when they leave, they don't realize it isn't forever. So they take a memento; a comfort.

Maybe as we age we feel the need to have mementos of time already gone, even if it's just junk. I guess we're afraid that by throwing out three of the five pairs of thermal underwear, we're admitting that we probably won't ever again spend so much time on a ski slope that we don't have time to wash clothes. Maybe those loan papers for my old car remind me of the journey I've traveled since I was that girl.

And maybe, just maybe.... we need to hire a maid.

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