Monday, 17 October 2011

Throwing Out Stuff

I put up a Facebook update earlier today that I was tackling a 7" (12 cm, I think, maybe) stack of paper to be filed. I now have it down 5" more or less. From time to time I have posted Good Resolutions about cleaning my office; I have even sort of done it from time to time. But I have a horrible time throwing out documents and good articles and booklets about subjects that interest me, not to mention any scrap of material from a trip we have taken and the third to twenty third photographs of some gorgeous piece of scenery. Well, there only used to be four or five when I used film.

I swear this time it will be different! I am winding up fourteen years of involvement with a community board that has taken a lot of my time and generated a lot (a dead woodlot) of paper. I am tossing the contents of binders, eliminating file folders and generally keeping only the few things where I still have a specific task to do. One big carrier bag of paper has already gone to the paper recycle at the dump, and there may be two more by tomorrow's open dump time.

A lot of people, I think, are pack rats au fond. Most little kids are, for starters. Herself, my age eight grand kid, keeps all sorts of bits and pieces. A couple of weeks ago she went home with a snakeskin, some lovely pieces of bark and a bunch of coloured leaves too bright to resist. Her bedroom is stuffed with stuff, a lot of it stuffed toys but also ornaments, hair clips, scarves, boxes and books. She has her birch bark stock stored in our screen porch and two boxes of varied art supplies in my office. My husband is a life long, charter, pack rat. When he runs out of room to keep his stuff, he builds another building in which to store it. A lot of his stuff is big, motorized and noisy but he also keeps piles of hardwood and softwood, various lengths of pipe and iron and steel, and cupboards and shelves both in the house and in the barn full of nails and screws and all sorts of strange objects that might even come in useful some day, including a big pile of empty coffee cans to put the bits into.

Both of my daughters keep lots and lots of stuff. I was hanging my clothes in the spare room closet last Thursday, settling in at the ED's place for a few days of child minding, when I looked up at the closet shelf and saw a big Tupperware container labelled "Letters from Mom". Since it said 'from Mom' and that is me, I looked in and this 2' x 3' container was full almost to the top with letters, cards and postcards covered in my writing. (Confession time - I have a file drawer that is about half filled with letters from MY mother and from our daughters.) The YD keeps books. Shelves and shelves and shelves full. I helped her move them once when she was a penniless undergraduate, but there are a lot more these days. She would need two strong men and a van with very good springs. (Confession - I have just about as many, some still in boxes from when we moved fifteen years ago.)

So many of us keep stuff. There is so much that seems precious, that evokes memory, that might someday be the very thing you need. In fact my husband swears that whenever (unlikely as this is) he gets rid of something, that something turns out to be exactly what he needs a short time later. Maybe. But I find the things that I don't 'need' and will never need are the ones that are hardest to toss.

When I finally managed to get my hair cut short as a girl, my mother kept a braid. When I decided that my little daughters' hair had to be cut short before I went crazy, my mother asked for the braids and kept them, too. I thought she was nuts, at the time, but she got a frame and put all three braids into it. Since her death, the frame sits on the top of the cupboard here in the office. I dust it and think about her. The grand daughter assured me this weekend that when she decides to cut her hair again, she will give me a braid to put in with the others. Sometimes I worry that the next step will be a brooch made out of the dear departed's hair and I will turn into Queen Victoria.The braid in the middle is mine, the ED's is on the right, the YD's on the left.

The latest - I cleaned out my closet and discarded a whole bunch of stuff. In the process I found a handkerchief that my grandmother had made, a white on white appliqué of her name on fine linen. I kept it. Of course. I am sure Herself, in the process of time, will treasure it because the big sorting out will be done by my long suffering daughters after I am gone.

Sorry girls.
I've babbled about this before. See: 


  1. It's a difficult balance. I think we have a chunk of my father's hair from when he was a wee thing, but I don't know where it is.

  2. Start watching episodes of "Hoarders" or "Hoarding: Buried Alive" on television. That may cure you.

    Seriously, though. I think I am some sort of Sentimental Autistic--my made-up diagnosis--because I have no urge to keep anything like mementos of the past. Never did. My mother made me buy a highschool yearbook. No idea where it is now. Ditto my diploma or sheepskins. My wedding pictures are someplace in the basement. I'm a very In The Now person. All in all, I prefer the idea of Memory: It is imperfect and usually pleasantly rosy. Having concreteness of the Past, for me, defeats the purpose and, more practically, forces me to dust or clean more often.

  3. Mary I had a similar stack of papers (although I'm afraid it was more of a pile due to repeated falling over and was all jumbled) that I went through the other night (those guests come tonight!). I'm just glad I don't have so many years of accumulated papers etc to keep on top of! Good luck, you'll get through it and find a good book to read to reward yourself when its done :)

  4. Lovely post--we've been "sifting" through my mom's treasures as well. Thank you so much for your concern. I'm doing well.

  5. I unearthed my 7-year-old's bedroom this weekend and found many misc. treasures similar to your granddaughter's. We don't have birchbark here -- instead she collects pumice, the rock that floats. I think that's funny.

  6. Oh its so difficult to make choices of what to throw away. I am the worlds worst for hoarding.
    Love those braids (we call them plaits!)
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May