ON THE SOAPBOX:
Another Womans Trash
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, its a ping pong paddle, I said. And we dont have a ping pong table anymore.
I know, she said, But its 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, weve been cleaning out.
I would venture a guess that we have put out around 100 bags of trash. In addition, weve made two trips to the recycling center with borrowed trucks full of papers, magazines and such.
We have 13 boxes of craft books were 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 60s.
Everyone in the family—thats six families—and friends have claimed items of remembrance. Weve sent things for consignment, sold things to dealers, and still... still... no room in my mothers house is fully empty, and, in the basement, weve cleared only about 15 square feet.
Separately and jointly, weve come to one firm conclusion: We are not going to let this happen to us.
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 shes 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 50s.
What do you do with such things?
You know what Im doing; Im keeping them, and more besides. Although I laughingly say Im keeping them for Posterity when she comes by to collect, the truth is that Im just like my mother. I have the family addiction.
Im keeping things I dont 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 shell keep the stuff, because I did.
Because there is a part of me that says I want my childrens childrens 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. Dont 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.