My mother is moving into a Seniors Living apartment this month, into a space that is less than one-third the size of what she has now. This means she’s had to tackle the difficult process of whittling down the lifetime of “stuff” she has accumulated.
And as I helped her in her last push of packing, we found yet more boxes, and a blue trunk to go through. Oh, no! More! And in these boxes, we found little treasures: her TWA uniform, and cap (she was a stewardess when Howard Hughes first started up the airline), her WW2 Army Cadet grey satchel, and cap with metal army emblem, and our family’s old Christmas stockings that had hung above our fireplace every year while I was growing up.
“Wow,” I marveled, and then hesitantly offered, “I’ll take these if you don’t want them.”
“Take ‘em!” she shoved them towards me as I wondered, what am I going to do with these. Where am I going to put them?? But I can’t leave them…
Many years ago, Patrick and I got into “clearing the clutter” out of our lives, and we went at cleaning out the unnecessary stuff, the things that were crowding and weighing down our lives. And much of what we got rid of was outdated – belonging to old lives, the ones we had already long grown out of. The “clearing the clutter” philosophy is – when you move the old stuff out, you make room for new.
Patrick went at cleaning out the excess junk with a vengeance. And when I remarked on his dedication, he waved a hand, saying, “I want it all gone.” I was so surprised; usually he was such a pack rat.
I’ve always loved the two question to ask yourself when you’re indecisive about getting rid of something, or not –
DO I LOVE IT? DO I NEED IT?
If you can’t say yes to either question – OUT IT GOES.
And of course, there are always exceptions…
Clearly, I’m not ready to get rid of my husband’s things. I still have all them right where they were when he died (except for the clothes I had to box up and set in the hall when I painted his closet). Two and a half years later, and I still can’t bring myself to do anything with them. And I don’t see myself doing anything with them in the near future either. Can’t I just leave them there? It’s my house, I can do anything I want, right? Unfortunately, the longer I leave them, the more likely they’ll get damaged.
So, I finally made a deal with myself – I will carefully pack up his things, and store them properly for safekeeping. I won’t be getting rid of them; I’ll just be…a good custodian.
And it’s still hard.
And for my mom, it was hard to chuck so many of her lifelong things into the trash. But I have to say, she kept a lot of things, some of them impractical, like – Books. After moving the eighth box of books, I pointed out that it was insane to take them, considering the cost would exceed the value. “I love my books,” she said simply. Fair enough.
And when we opened the blue trunk we had found hidden upstairs, we discovered– Fabric. Pristine, brand new fabric. Untouched, neatly folded, color intact… “I think I got this one from your grandmother,” she pulled out one remnant.
“What were you going to do with this orange fabric? It looks like it’s from the sixties,” I asked.
“I was going to make a muumuu,” she smiled, and then added, “If there’s something you want, just take it. But not this…this…this…” She pointed out all her “must haves.” And I couldn’t help wondering when she was going to find the time to sew all these things (along with making tablecloths and curtains with the bolts of fabric that had already set aside for the movers).
My brother, John, who was watching all this, shook his head and quipped, “Why get rid of any of it? You need to keep it all so you can pass it down to the next generation.”
Hah! The family legacy – Fabric! But I understood why my mother wanted to hang on to it. You looked at this stuff, and you couldn’t help but imagine what you could make with it, and the pleasure of creating it, and making it happen. Even if it was only dreaming about it. This fabric was about – possibilities.
Of course I instinctively knew the meaning of raw and untouched fabric. I am my mother’s daughter. And so, I took some of the fabric for myself, including the bright orange, swirl-y print. That muumuu idea sounds like fun.
And I’ll put this fabric in my cupboard. Right next to the silk I bought in Thailand twenty years ago.