ON THE SOAPBOX:

“Another Woman’s Trash”

by Lynda Lambert
Do your kids a favor and get rid of all that stuff now, before they have to decide what to keep and what to throw away after you’re gone.

Years ago, I convinced my mother to take a stab at cleaning out the basement.

It was an overwhelming task. It was filled with things not just from our immediate family, but from my grandmother, people my mother worked for, people she knew and others. The room was filled to the rafters with “stuff.”

But, doggedly determined, down we went. She, to sit in a decision-making chair. I and my daughter, to pull things out of boxes to make decisions on.

The first item up for bid was a ping pong paddle.

I held it up to her and, expecting her to say pitch it, I went to throw it in the trash.

“Wait!” she said, her voice in a panic.

“Mother, it’s a ping pong paddle,” I said. “And we don’t have a ping pong table anymore.”

“I know,” she said, “But it’s a perfectly good ping pong paddle.”

We laughed for a good 20 minutes, but realized that our points of view on what was trash and what was treasure would never come together, and we left the basement as it was.

We figured we had time ahead of us to try again. We would clean it out then.

In April of this year, time ran out; my mother passed away.

A self-admitted packrat with a consciousness bred from the Depression and war years, during which she was raised, the “stuff” my mother left behind is unbelievable.

Since the second weekend after her passing, we’ve been cleaning out.

I would venture a guess that we have put out around 100 bags of trash. In addition, we’ve made two trips to the recycling center with borrowed trucks full of papers, magazines and such.

We have 13 boxes of craft books we’re giving to the library when I can get someone to help me take them over; and we have given away more than 20 bags of clothing, including 32 pairs of shoes, some dating back to the 60’s.

Everyone in the family—that’s six families—and friends have claimed items of remembrance. We’ve sent things for consignment, sold things to dealers, and still... still... no room in my mother’s house is fully empty, and, in the basement, we’ve cleared only about 15 square feet.

Separately and jointly, we’ve come to one firm conclusion: We are not going to let this happen to us.

And yet...

There is more to it than just the cleaning up and out. There is the sorting...the determining... the guilt.

With every item I pitch, I wonder, “Would mother have wanted that saved?” The strain in making that determination is what psychotherapists’ couches were made for.

My sister loves to say, “Make it disappear” when she is asked for her opinion on an item. But I have problems with doing just that, even though I know she’s probably right in most cases.

One of our biggest problems is that my father was fairly well-known in this town. A radio announcer for some years, we have many things that have to do with radio as far back as the 50’s.

What do you do with such things?

You know what I’m doing; I’m keeping them, and more besides. Although I laughingly say I’m keeping them for Posterity when she comes by to collect, the truth is that I’m just like my mother. I have the family addiction.

I’m keeping things I don’t need, will never use, and that will stay locked away in boxes and chests until I pass away.

And, when I do, my daughter will open up those boxes and chests and shake her head in wonder as we are now doing, and say, “Why did she keep this?” and “What should I do with it?”

Sadly, in my heart of hearts, I hope she’ll keep the stuff, because I did.

Because there is a part of me that says I want my children’s children’s children to see it and understand where they came from, to touch the 19th and 20th Centuries.

But there is also a part of me that honestly, truly, deep down wants to make it disappear.

And because of this inner conflict, I realize that I am truly addicted.

And so I say to you, take pity on your kids. Don’t be an enabler.

Make it disappear before they have to.

Clean it up. Throw it out.


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This story was published on September 5, 2001.