Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pack Rat, Hoarder, or Just Mom?

I’m admitting something today that I’m not pleased about. I save stuff. I don’t mean the regular stuff like my credit card receipts until the end of the month; I mean a lot of stuff. And I don’t know what to do with it anymore. It’s not that I want to have all of this stuff, but I keep thinking I’ll need it, or my kids will, or I’ll get rid of something and three months later my husband will ask me for it. Irrational? Yes. But that’s what goes through my mind. There are several categories so bear with me.

School papers. Starting with Nursery School a ream of paper seems to come home each week in the little book bag the little one carries. These are construction paper behemoths that contain cotton ball clouds or toothpick-formed letters. Maybe a few chicken scratch lines are etched on the page, but more accurately it’s the teacher’s neat handwriting that labeled the page for my child. But it’s my child’s. How can I throw it out, especially when he is as pleased as punch to have accomplished such amazing projects? With my oldest, anytime I tried to throw something away after the appropriate amount of time praising the piece and my child, tears would flood his eyes. Not easily manipulated, I took digital pictures of each work of art and showed him the file he could access “forever” so I could unload some of the lesser works into the circular file (read garbage can). But somehow I lost momentum and the pile of “need to be dealt with” papers has become the highest peak in my state of New Jersey! Especially with the addition of my second son’s papers the peak is now the highest in the East Coast! So, I ask the parents and the organizers who might offer some suggestions, how do I wrestle the papers away so I can reclaim the once-spacious place that is my home? It’s not that I am callous to my children’s feelings, but I know my now four-year-old will not care about his Nursery School papers when he is in sixth grade, high school, college, or on his Honeymoon! On the other hand, it physically hurts for me to throw some of these papers out: odd-looking Santa Clauses, snowmen, leprechauns, Jack-o-lanterns, etc. all hold a tiny piece of my heart as I know that the years will continue to march on and I’ll lose the innocence, wonder, and goofiness that is my four-year-old. As if by keeping the work I can capture his essence, smell, little body, and glorious honesty (“Mommy, you’re beautiful!”) that endears him to me daily. This tangible evidence that my child is learning, exists, and creates should be showcased on walls, put in a vault, or, at the very least, given it’s own shelf, But with three children and a home that does not expand at will, space is finite. I need to learn to stop equating the work with the child. Perhaps exploring the digital camera again is the answer. But pictures will never fully replace the tactile joy and memory-inducing thrill that is my children’s creations.

Personal items. My sentimentality knows no bounds. As is probably no surprise, I cling to artifacts from my own life as well. Cards from my late grandmother, letters from my husband from when we were courting all the way through every moment of our marriage, old photos that were so bad they never made it into albums but I cannot seem to throw away because the image of someone I love is on them. I’ve tried scrapbooking, but have gotten away from it in recent years simply because of the time factor and having the two younger children in the house who are demolition crews. But I save things like old drivers’ licenses, school Ids, and programs of shows I’ve seen. They tell a personal history that I feel will help spur the memories that age may one day rob me. I realize they are only important to me, and, one day, when I’m gone, my children will have to go through these items and do away with them, but I just can’t seem to do the job myself.

Magazines. Yes, I do. I save magazines. Sometimes it’s for a recipe, although I do know how to clip those out and file them, but usually it’s because of the pictures, advertisements, and feel they give me when I see them. Do I reread old magazines? Well, I used to, but now that I get so many, have three kids, and write around the clock, I really don’t see that happening, but, once again, it’s difficult for me to let them go. They are the unofficial textbooks of the era they represent. The styles, recipes, and celebrities tell the history of the date on the cover. As a historian I love going back to see the evolution of things as well as delight in the tradition that holds over year after year.

Baby clothes. If keeping my children’s schoolwork is important, keeping some of their baby clothes is, too. I have been good about giving away the clothes my babies have outgrown knowing I will not expand my family anymore, but there are still some outfits that I have an emotional attachment. I realize this is a bit crazy; attachments should be to people, not things. And intellectually I understand and wholeheartedly agree, but then I’ll hold one of my son’s favorite pajamas, an adorable sweatshirt, or one of my daughter’s dresses and I become an emotional mess. Knowing that other children will benefit from these clothes, like I have from hand-me-downs for my children, cheers me. I do donate items, share them with friends, and the like, but some items have yet to find their way out of my basement.

I know a majority of these things must leave my house before there is no room for my family and me. I realize it’s the people and memories that are important and not the things. I understand that by clearing out the clutter I’ll enjoy my living space all the more. I crave for my children to follow my lead with their toys if I model the proper mindset with my things, but I’m not quite there yet. I waited thirty years to start my family. The stuff has only been around a relatively short amount of time. I know I will summon up the courage to evict these things eventually, but, until then, I’m going to revel in the ownership of it all!

1 comment:

  1. Ok, you have caused my heart issues to return. I think more because I think I lack that part of the "mom gene" that wants to save stuff. I am a purger, I am willing to let it all go. (my husband not so much).

    School Papers: Again, I'm not a saver. I'd be perfectly content to toss it all. However, there are certain things I have saved... Last Day of school papers. You know those heart wrenching I love you mom for helping me to grow art projects that bring you to tears? Those I keep. I also keep all report cards... and those papers that you know your child poured their guts out to write, or those tests that were a cause of great anxiety... the A's get kept. I have one large bin that I keep. When it gets too full of what I may have thought was important and a must keep, I get rid of. You can look through the bin again and rethink some of the papers... and you think, why was I keeping this? If you ask yourself that... circular file baby! Eventually, you'll be left with the extra-special mementos.

    Personal Items: Stephen and I had a "discussion" about the dress I got engaged in. I was willing to donate it to someone who could use it. Stephen on the other hand was on the defensive... "Keep it! Rebekah can wear it!" I will never wear it again (I'm not a size 4 anymore & it is AWFULLY short!). It now hangs on HIS side of the closet. I am not a card keeper. Although, I can guess that I probably have the last card my grandmother sent me. I also have all the letters that Stephen wrote to me while we courted as well. I have the glasses engraved with my prom date, photos of prom, etc. However, my general rule is: The memory isn't in that photo or item... it is in your mind and your heart. Keeping the item just clutters your life & can, in some cases, crowd out the memory itself. Which is more important? I have several memory items, but I make sure that they don't crowd out the memory of the person because I'm holding onto the item so hard.

    Magazines: I can't bear to let go of my Real Simple magazines. They are so beautiful. I have several of those magazine holders... I need more. I know that my subscription is coming up for renewal soon. I don't reread them, sometimes I don't even read the more recent issue... but the covers would be a simple joy. ;) I love getting them in the mail to see what the cover looks like. I may flip through it, but now being too busy, I can't sit down and read it. But boy, those are HARD to get rid of.

    Baby Clothes: I haven't kept many baby clothes. I always keep the outfit they came home in. Their outfit they wore for their 1st picture at 3 mos. and the outfit they wore at their 1 yr. photo. I also keep their MOST favorite stuffed animal and their favorite blanket. Each child has a small keepsake bin for these items and their baby books. Rebekah may have an extra dress or two that I can't part with, but not many.

    I've told Rebekah that if I die, I fear that Stephen will become a hoarder of all my things. I tell all the kids... Make sure Daddy gets rid of things after a year of me being gone. Only have him keep extra special things! ;)

    Ok, now I feel like I need to go purge/organize something.