Save us from the stuff we save

It used to be my own dirty little secret.  And then I started to read more about it—such as a recent  UCLA survey which estimates 75% of American families have so much stuff crammed in the garage, they can’t get the car in it.

That made me felt much better about myself.

Not because I can fit a car into our garage.  I can’t.  But because I’m not alone.

My name is Darryle and I’m a stuffaholic.   My “habit” is so pervasive and common, soon we’ll have support groups, interventions, 12-step programs, stints in rehab.

Mostly I wish it would all go away.

Not just the stuff—but the advice on how to deal with it.  Like last weekend’s piece by Gretchen Rubin in the New York Times—which actually had some good suggestions  that I won’t ever do.

I wish I could come up with a better word to describe the stuff that fills my house, and even my brain (The subtitle of my blog was Confessions of a cluttered mind.)  Then again I guess “clutter” is a kinder way to say hoarder it.

Sometimes I think the problem is just the way stuff is stored—-would it still be called clutter if it’s well-organized?

My storage system is totally random—not just where it is but what it is.

If only I had decided to hang onto Barbie dolls and vintage lunchboxes that would be valuable collector’s items —instead of what I actually kept—like the homemade costume from camp when I played Daisy Mae or this 6-foot long gum chain I made in 8th grade.

You’d think I would be done with clutter  by now anyway.

A few years ago  I created a blog called Cluttercast—every single day I would describe an individual item—and send it for free to anyone who wanted it.

I lasted a year.

End result:  I still have most of my clutter.  And my several hundred Cluttercast  posts just created MORE clutter on the internet.

I’m a certified clutter magnet even if you don’t count my garage sale habit.  But my stuff is not just mine.  And it’s not my fault.

Like any other parent, I have my kids’ stuff—including every homework assignment my son completed in third grade.  (Not my fault since third graders shouldn’t have so much homework.)

Having a soft sentimental streak makes me the obvious choice to wind up with stuff no one else wants.  For anything ever owned by anyone in the family, I always assume that the next generation will want anything of historical value.

That’s why I kept my father’s college chemistry course notebooks—though I never took chemistry and can’t understand a single word even if I could read his handwriting– which I can’t.

For the same reason I assume someday my kids will want MY college course notebooks, which I’ve also saved.

Although I’ve noticed my kids don’t even save their own college notebooks.

Which brings up how my kids feel about my clutter.  I always considered my “habit” just an annoyance; and figured I had plenty of time to deal with it before anyone else would have to.

Lately it feels more urgent.

And I got some insight when my ex-husband died a few months ago.  We were still close; and recently I helped our two adult children go through his stuff.

Growing up surrounded by my clutter apparently affected their approach– and made them more  practical.  Their dad was highly organized and did not accumulate stuff at my level; still, they got rid of ALOT.

I never know where to draw the line between sentimental stuff and clutter-–anyone who has ever tried sifting through memories of a lifetime knows it’s poignant and hard to do.  It was especially hard to restrain myself from taking his stuff home with me—accumulating even more clutter than I already have.

This experience got me thinking about what will happen when I die.  So when I returned home from Howard’s extremely neat garage (where he kept his car), I took a look at ours.

It gave me a headache.

The rest of the garage is even worse.  I thought I’d start small; and zeroed in on this one section.   Forget about going through file cabinets I haven’t opened in 10 years– instead of dealing with what’s IN them, I looked at what’s ON them.

It screams seventies and I know exactly when I got it—it was in my college dorm room.

Do I really need it around anymore?  I resolved to be more like my kids—more practical.

So I kept it.

Hey, it’s practical—I can use it to store more stuff.

Also posted on the Huffington Post

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  1. says

    Ok, I had both the wicker trunk and the gum chain. Thank goodness i threw those out. But my attic? OMG don’t ask. Surely more than just a portrait ; )

  2. says

    I’m writing this as someone with a large basement that holds several boxes of old letters-remember those?) and journals. And I’m starting a “makerspace” in our basement workshop, so I save a lot of things in the hopes of incorporating them into a future project.

    On some level, I can relate, but I believe that ultimately, it feels good to purge. Your soul will feel lighter. At the very least, organize while you have the energy. Otherwise, your kids may just decide it’s easier to dump everything rather than sift through it all to determine what’s trash and what’s treasure. They should at least know what’s nearest and dearest to you, right?

  3. Julie Simon says

    Well-timed! On my To-Do list today is cleaning out my kids’ old artwork and other chazzerai, plus emptying our bookshelves for our local library sale. BUT — there are some advantages to hoarding. Several years ago, a month or so before our 40th Beach High reunion, my daughter started wearing this gold ring. I asked her where she’d gotten it, and she told me she’d found it on the floor in our garage. I examined it, and found the initials THK on it. A few nights later, it came to me– as things often do in the middle of the night. The ring belonged to a high school boyfriend with whom I hadn’t communicated in years. (He actually lives near you.) Turned out he was coming to the reunion, and I was able to return his long lost initial ring.

    I have a box of letters, odds and ends from junior high through college sitting under my desk. Fortunately, my daughter has the same sentimental streak as I do. However, my mother does not. The moment I left for college she got rid of all my beloved dolls — Barbies, Madame Alexander’s and Betsy Wetsys. Not sure I’ve forgiven her yet. But I do have a small collection of collectible dolls — which my daughter hates.

  4. says

    Every single thing you say makes sense to me—that I should organize now rather than later, that it’s better for me to do than the kids; and especially how great it feels to purge It really does and actually there were times in my life when I had very little. In my early twenties I lived in a walk-in closet—with no room for anything but a bed—no idea where I even kept the little stuff I had. The thing is that I’ve gotten much worse as I’ve gotten older—and every time I clear out stuff, more seems to appear in its place. You do remember Cluttercast, right? Funny, isn’t that how we first met? Nice to hear from you—and I so wish I had a basement, too—although highly unlikely I’d use it for anything as useful as you are.

  5. says

    I love the ring story and that kind of thing is part of the joy of hoard—I mean, cluttering. I’ve come across lots of things that way—not always valuable but always fun to discover. Just last week when we were finishing up with Howard’s stuff, we found he somehow had a scarf that I had bought in Paris before I even met him—and it still fits! (haha) Though my kids aren’t keeping things now, I’m convinced someday they will appreciate the things I’ve saved—at least that’s what I tell myself about why I do it. Thanks, Julie.

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