[Please note that this photo is someone else's clutter--not mine! For that I am so grateful.]
The first thing that convicted me was an estate sale I went to last weekend. I wasn’t heading for the sale but I saw the signs on my way to run errands on Saturday and decided on the spur of the moment to check it out. The sale was in a modest little rambler on a major thoroughfare in my little suburban town. It was the second day of the sale but there was still a huge conglomeration of STUFF left. The kitchen was tiny and very outdated. But there were several complete sets of dishes, a collection of beer steins, and a pile of beat-up cake pans. The linen closet was full of worn and tired, but professionally laundered, linens—sheets and pillowcases and chenille bedspreads and multicolored towels. On the bottom shelf of the linen closet was a box of various ointments and hand creams. It gave me the willies.
There were closets stuffed full of clothes and shoes that had obviously belonged to an old man and an old woman. The man must have been exceptionally small—his clothes looked like old man clothes that would fit a pre-teen boy, including small, but shined black shoes. The woman’s clothes were small too—little house dresses and slips and hats. And one room—the sewing room, I suppose—had boxes and boxes of fabric remnants and old patterns.
But it was the basement that made me want to cry. It was an unfinished below-ground basement, moldy, with cinderblock walls and rows of makeshift wooden shelves. There were hundreds of yellowed paperback books and shelves of hardback books, including Bibles and college textbooks with titles like World Civilization and Principles of Economics. Boxes of comic books, piles of old magazines, a table full of board games, and a crate of ice skates. Children’s bicycles, ratty old Christmas decorations, crutches, an old stove (older than the one in the kitchen), and two home-made puppet stages complete with curtains. All of it gave me the willies.
I presume the old couple had either moved to some sort of senior care facility or they were really gone. If they had just moved they left most of their clothes and their creams and ointments behind. Obviously it must have been a long time since they had children in the house. Why did they keep all the toys and the textbooks, the old ratty sheets and cake pans, the boxes of fabric remnants?
And on the following day, I visited my mother. I can rarely visit my mother without having some sort of cleaning/reorganizing chore. My sister and I regularly clean out her closet or her kitchen or just cull through her STUFF and put it in her storage unit. On Sunday she wanted us to reorganize her file drawers. My sister and I were sputtering, moaning, and saying things like, “Mom, why is the bill for Dad’s funeral in the Verizon file?” And, “You know, I don’t really think you need to save the program for this wedding since they’ve divorced and married other people.” Papers were flying. Several times we thought we were finished when Mom said, “Well, there’s another box,” or “what about the chest in the bottom of my closet that’s full of bank statements?” We had a huge pile of papers to be shredded and two large trash bags of papers to be thrown away.
I’ve been pretty good about staying organized and not hanging on to too much STUFF. But in the past few days, seeing how much people can accumulate and how easy it is to get disorganized has convinced me that one of the best things I can do for my kids is to simplify my possessions and my financial affairs. I don’t want to think that one day they will be cursing me, saying how in the world did she accumulate so much crap? They’ll have other reasons to curse me, I suppose, but I don’t want them to get the willies sorting through the accumulated STUFF from my long and crazy life.