For the last week, I have been staying with my mom, to help her clean out the closets. The timing is perfect since my Dad is out of town and we can make piles all over the house without someone asking, “What are you doing? What is this? Why is it here? What is all that noise? Did you know that you left the lights on in whichever room he just walked past?” Throw some expletives in for good measure and you would be spot on. Fortunately my parents aren’t hoarders so we haven’t had to rent a dumpster or call in a Hazmat team. It is just the usual debris of 20 years in a much-loved house.
Last night we went to bed at 2am after going through bookshelves, organizing wrapping paper and cleaning out drawers. At what point do you say you don’t want any of it any longer and chuck it all out? Is there a statute of limitations for keeping things? Two generations back? Three? If only I wasn’t sentimental and don’t get me started on creating unnecessary waste. “But it was Nonna’s…” Do we really need to keep her handkerchiefs or Bridge books? “Oh we can reuse that. We don’t want it to go into a landfill if it can’t be recycled.” It’s ok, I will sit here for two hours rolling up ribbons that we will forget about the next time we wrap a present. Of course we will use those gift boxes at Christmas or for birthdays. “You can’t donate that, it was expensive.” I need another suitcase for all the stuff I am bringing back with me that should go to Goodwill or a consignment store. But I love it and it means something to me. I am not going to say that it sparks joy because that is a load of crap but it does make me feel connected to my family.
The truth is, I am glad to be doing this with my mother now instead of by myself when both parents are no longer around. I like to think they will have pissed off on an around the world motorcycle tour and left me to pack up the house rather than the inevitable whatever euphemism you want to use here. For my cat, I said he went off to college but I didn’t think about what happens when the four years are up. We are now at the year one mark. Maybe he will do a graduate degree and will need more time away to get his doctorate? Anyway, when that time comes, for my parents to go off to college, the idea of doing it all alone (I am an only child) seems horrendous. I would far rather have the late nights and minor spats, while talking about the memories, than the quiet and guaranteed difficulty deciding what to toss and what to keep. Instead, I am going home with an amazing suit from the 80s that I will never wear, except for on-stage (maybe), that I remember mom wearing to business meetings and lunches. Think huge shoulder pads, big hair and colorful eye shadow. If I could somehow preserve her hair and make-up style from that decade in one of the pockets, it would be the perfect memento. I am also keeping scarves that my great-grandmother knitted eons ago. I didn’t even know she could knit. I had this vision of her as an elegant Italian matron who collected art and had a soft-spot for her poodle, Silky. I did cut the pom-poms off one of them, the scarf, not the poodle, which felt like sacrilege but they were a bit over the top. Those are going to Goodwill. Hopefully someone has always wanted a set of their own pom-poms to embellish who knows what and now will have that opportunity.
We still have to tackle mom’s office, garage and storage room which brings to mind old suitcases, boxes filled with paper and tax returns that have been kept for too long. The storage room has one hanging bulb with a long cord to turn it on, just like a good storage closet should. I also have a feeling that the closets are filled with everything that doesn’t have a place in the house. Will we find an old fax machine, a box of National Geographic magazines or my grandmother’s old slips? It is like the lottery of stuff no one wants or needs. If only we were crafty. We could create an Etsy store for refurbished tax returns or the Christmas presents no one wanted and didn’t know what to do with. I am surprised I haven’t had dreams in which I am being chased by waves of wire hangers or smothered by mismatched socks. I still have one night left so tonight could be the night. Stay tuned for the next installment of slowly driving yourself crazy with other people’s stuff.