Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Archeological Dig

Disintegrated or eroded matter: the detritus of past civilizations.
Accumulated material; debris: "Poems, engravings, press releases—he eagerly scrutinizes the detritus of fame"

Our attic runs the full length and width of our old house. For several days now, I have spent a good portion of my time working on clearing it out. This is no easy feat. We are a household of three packrats.

Since the attic is not insulated or heated, and 95% of the year it is either too hot or too cold, in the past I've not spent more than a few minutes up there at a time. Hauling out the beach cottage supplies; stowing away holiday decorations.

My husband bought this old house in 1978. I moved across the country to marry him in 1993. Hubs has 30 years of treasures junk in this attic; I have 15 years of junk treasures. Then there's the stuff left behind from the previous tenants - who themselves built this house in 1917.

Are you getting a feel for what I'm up against? I'm talking an attic piled so high and thick with stuff you'd have to step outside to change your mind.

I have discovered that the boxes of possessions form a ring around the attic door, much like the rings of a tree. The more I haul out, the deeper I go in the attic, the farther back in time it takes me.

I've already attacked the holiday ornaments, and thinned those out considerably.

I've dispensed with various unused and discarded sporting paraphrenalia of both Darling Daughter and The Hubs. Other sports draw their attention now - and the often-used basketball and field hockey stick are kept in a handier spot down below.

I've dealt with the Rubbermaid tub of favorite stuffed animals, packed away when Darling Daughter was very young and not looked at since. They've landed in the dumpster (although in a black garbage bag first so as not to upset D.D. No sense tempting fate.)

Rubbermaid tubs of Fisher-Price toddler toys, still in great shape and perhaps destined to be "classics" one day. I kept a couple favorites and got rid of the rest.

Now I'm getting into emotional territory. Boxes of baby clothes that I didn't think I could part with 12 years ago. I closed my eyes and tossed it all, with the exception of the outfit we brought her home from the hospital in, and the pair of little black velvet Mary Janes she wore for her 2nd Christmas.

Still deeper I go. Now I'm finding boxes of my own Grandma's items, given to me after her death. Her pie plates. Her mixing bowls. Things well used by the hands of a woman I deeply loved, placed there at a time when I was too emotional to use them. These things will finally find their way down to my own kitchen, and I will have nothing but good memories when I use them.

I continue my trip back in time. Love letters from a young man I occasionally think of with fondness, yet haven't seen or spoken to in 20 years. The small box that still holds the rose I carried at my high school graduation 32 years ago, along with my senior picture and graduation announcement. I don't even remember saving the rose. When my daughter's a little older, I'll give her the photo.

Why did I hang on to all of this? Why did I think I needed THINGS to remind me of special people, special times? I gathered items around me as if to ward off the sadness of saying goodbye. Comforting myself, afraid that if I discarded the STUFF I was discarding the memories; discarding the person who meant so much to me.

But an attic full of dusty old momentos is not the legacy I want to leave my daughter. I don't want her to have to spend six months of her life sorting through the detritus after I'm gone.

One thing I've learned in my hours spent in the attic. I don't need this STUFF, so much of which I'd forgotten was even up there. The memories of the people and the good times are with me always.

And if I've forgotten a few, maybe that's okay too.


Momma said...

Oh Kathy, this is something like what I'm going through myself. Maybe the spring cleaning bug has gotten us? Most of my stuff is in the garage or stuffed into closets. Despite the fact that we've moved a few times in the last 5 years, I am still carrying a lot of crap around. Like you, I tend to hang onto things that will remind me of people, places, experiences. I don't know if I'll be able to throw out the few baby clothes I still have or the drawings from my kids when they were in school or the stuffed animals. There is something that feels disloyal about that. But then again, how loyal am I to myself to keep living with so much stuff?

Great, thought-provoking post...

Peace - D

Melisa said...

Great post! And congratulations to you for thinning everything out!

We just have a small crawlspace in our basement. It's about 6 feet by 6 feet. All our our overflow fits in there, and we go through it all every year or two. No attic, and our basement is a finished one that we use for living space. It's great to be simplified!

I actually have a Rubbermaid full of baby stuff from each kid (about 4 or 5 special outfits, baby book, a couple of toys, etc.) and another Rubbermaid for various school papers, certificates, etc.

Suggestion to Momma: some of that stuff you can take photos of, so you can always remember it...then toss the stuff! Trust me, your kid(s) WON'T do anything with a bunch of stuffed animals from their childhood someday. Keep one and take photos of the rest. It takes up less space! :)

Susan said...

Kathy, great post! I love your analogy to rings of a tree.

I'm going through this too. I'm feeling hemmed in by all the STUFF around me. When I'm in mood like this, I purge, purge, purge. I have very few regrets about things I've gotten rid of.

Thanks for this post. I read it on a day when I needed something to renew my energy.

Sue said...

I find it hard to throw anything away with a face on it. That is why I have to make my mom throw away any of the girl's stuffed animals. They have feelings, right?
Good job on the attic. You should feel very proud of yourself. Loved the tree ring analogy!

Anonymous said...

Wow.. that reminds me of when my Mom moved out of "our" house after 20 years. I was 19 and couldn't figure out why she had so much STUFF! Now, I'm the Mom and my kids feel the same way I did. Its so hard to move every 3 years and hang onto stuff.. but I still manage. Great Post!

noble pig said...

Wow, it's so hard to get rid of that stuff once and for all. It's painful actually. But it's invigorating to be clear of it. You can do it! Keep going!

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Anonymous said...

ah, Kathy, I'm in a parallel life. My dad's house is on the market and I've been driving to eugene every week for the past year and a half since my mom died sorting through things. Every single item takes me back in time - my mom's algebra books from the 1930's, carefully penned "Jean Matthews" inside the cover. The dresses she wore in the Easter photo of her, my brother and I when I was about 8. My brother's 50 year old stuffed animals. Every item requires a decision: do I want it? if yes, put it there. if no, would my brother want it? my daughters? St. vincent's? The really tough decisions are on the stuff that I really don't want, but after my mom hung onto it and valued it for 70 years, I can't hardly toss it in the trash. One of my mom's friends said to me "Julie, getting rid of your mom's things doesn't mean you're getting rid of your mom." I remind myself of that every time I get rid of something.

I've finished clearing out the house and now it's just the end of the garage. I've taken at least 6 vanloads full over to St. Vincent's, who even wanted the National Geographics from 1943 to 1990's. The previous owner had left several boxes in the house when we moved in.

My own house is now stuffed, 13 boxes have been in my living room for at least 2 weeks - they need to either go to the church or be mailed to my brother.

Saturday we're renting a moving van to retrieve the furniture I'd left in the house to stage it for sale. We have a buyer in progress.

I'm saying goodbye to the house that I grew up in with mixed feelings. After years of taking care of 2 houses, I'll be more than grateful to only have 1 house to care for. At the same time, it's the house that I've considered "home" for 38 years.

You touched a chord in me. We are in a new stage of life, aren't we? julie