Inspired by the “40 Bags in 40 Days” decluttering project. That I did not participate in.
My mom passed away in 2008, dad in 2009. They lived in the same 1950s ranch-style house from 1960 until their passing. They were both 75. Which means they were both born in the early 1930s. Which means they were “Depression Babies” which means they had a little trouble throwing stuff out.
OK, they had a LOT of trouble throwing stuff out. Although to be fair, this was mostly a Mom Problem and Dad picked his battles. Fighting the accumulation of stuff was not one of them.
And those 1950s ranch homes, man, they had BASEMENTS. Like really huge, obstruction-free basements, perfect for keeping stuff. Very much stuff. Forever.
To compound the problem, mom thought stuff had value. All the stuff. I threatened that I would be renting a dumpster when they were both gone – and wouldn’t it be better if they went through some things and made their own decisions? But no. And I did indeed rent a dumpster in the end.
One of my favorite examples is the Tupperware Discovery. I had a “girlfriend weekend” at the house, and a couple of local friends came by to help sort through things ahead of the estate auction. We discovered two Rubbermaid “totes” – those large plastic bins you can fit a small child in. One was filled with plastic food storage containers, 50 or more, assorted sizes and shapes, no lids. The matching tote was filled with hundreds of lids, assorted sizes and shapes, no containers. And none of them went together.
Yes, my mother was sure that she would be able to pair these strays up. A eureka moment would occur when she would match a container with a lid, possibly saving an entire $3 in buying a new one.
Hundreds of Penn State football buttons – packaged in sets, in those sandwich bags with the twist ties. Two YEARS worth of paper plates, napkins and cups, and I know this because I took the stuff home and it took 2 years to use it all. Keys – dozens of them – unmarked. Which I actually did not throw out at first, in the clutches of some very deep-seated, irrational conviction that they might be keys to SOMETHING IMPORTANT.
And of course, the multiple Ziploc bags full of pens, pencils, crayons and markers. What is it about this kind of thing that compels you to start going through the pens before catching yourself and wondering what the hell you are doing?
I decided to ask my children – now almost 25 and 21 – what they did, and didn’t, want to see saved for that time in the hopefully distant future when they too would experience the unique joy of cleaning out the parental abode.
Those who have read other things I have written know that I have a Wordy Child, and a Not-So-Wordy-Child. Surprisingly, the not-so-wordy one responded first with a plea to never throw out BearBear, his beloved stuffed animal from baby- and childhood. And in his Never Want To See It Again category: KidzBop CDs. Remember those? They were so truly terrible, and apparently he has incurred some permanent scarring associated with cheery renditions of popular hits like “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and every Taylor Swift song, ever. They are on CD 34 now! And it’s a touring act as well, God help us.
Wordy Child sent several batches of text messages, roughly the equivalent of the term papers I am sure they want me to throw out.
“Well, Dad probably has hundreds of Pioneer hats throughout the house and garage. The fruit cellar alone will be a huge pain in the ass because it's not like I'm going to bring 10 bottles of ketchup back to NYC with me.”
A side note about my husband, whom we love dearly of course. He works for Pioneer Dupont, an agricultural seed company, and yes we do indeed have many many boxes of caps. Also, he is a bargain hunter. A coupon user. A seeker of deals. Very fond of BOGOs (buy-one-get-one). Even fonder of sale-pricing, plus coupon doubling, plus a BOGO, AND A REBATE OFFER if he can manage it. Multiple bottles of ketchup are the least of it…his stash of shampoo will outlast the hair on his head.
Not wanting to deal with the basement storage areas seemed to really get them going - “We could instruct the caterer at your funeral to cook using the entire cow that is in the freezer. And we'll have to give a bottle of wine to every guest because while I would love all that wine...I’m not sure it would be worth packing it all up.” So yeah, when you get the sad sad news, you will all want to pretend you are devastated, and show up at this bash, no kidding. Wine not your thing? Let me tell you about hubby’s beer supply…
In the toy department, Duplos were at the receiving end of some extremely harsh commentary. “I just described Duplos as ‘shitty Legos’ to someone asking about construction toys,” said one kid. “Duplos are indeed trash. Every kid on the block knows that,” said the other. Poor Duplos. I have no idea what they did to deserve such vitriol. On the other hand, I guess I can get rid of them all.
They both expressed an interest in any electronics, but only if they were updated. “No outdated tech!” which includes pretty much all the “storage media.” And for those of you are simply not hip to speakin’ the geek – CDs, DVDs, flash drives… Just when you’ve managed to get the VHS onto DVD – you better move it to the cloud now or forget about it. They aren’t keeping it. I don’t even know what to tell you about all the archival boxes full of photos and papers. Maybe start burning it all now.
They also both qualified their answers, saying “Depends on where I am at in life” and also, space. They want all the books. The “cool” furniture. The art. The Mini Cooper named Hovis.
No one wants that Ziploc bag of pencils.