“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”
– Wendell Berry
Today I worked on my house. I usually have somewhere to go, some place to be on the weekend, but today I made no plans so that I could work around the house. I’ve been trying to get organized for a while, but most days it seems like such a Herculean task that I become defeated before I begin and I wander off in search of something, frankly anything, to distract me. I’ve dabbled as a professional organizer and so I know that it’s not about the stuff, but rather the sentiment, the feelings tied to the stuff that makes it so difficult to toss things out. When I’m helping people sort through their own things I can see that it’s irrational, I can see that they need to let go and I can talk them through the process and remind them that the chachkies that they hold so dear are just things and while they might have been gifts from someone special they are not that person and one doesn’t need to keep every single trinket that a loved one once bestowed upon them. I can help people work through the sense of loss and I can explain to them that they will feel better not only emotionally, but also physically, if they reduce the amount of clutter and confusion in their personal space, but like the cobbler’s daughter who has no shoes, when it comes to my own home and my own treasures I find it near impossible to let things go.
I have a small clay sculpture of a fisherman in my curio cabinet. I honestly don’t remember where it came from although my father had it in his living room and he kept trying to give it to me and I kept trying to give it back because I’m not a fan of folk art and I thought it was horrible. My father said that it was mine, possibly bought years ago when I visited him in Halifax when he worked out there after my parent’s divorce. My friends call me “The Memory”, but this piece was obviously not significant enough to me to even remember the story behind it, but my father was sure that it was mine or at least bought for me. It’s chipped and a there is a piece of the base glued back on and the glue has yellowed and stands out against the cream coloured finish of the clay and if I had tossed it out the day before my father died I’d never have thought about it again, but now it sits in my curio cabinet and I can’t bear to part with it because it was my father’s and he wanted me to have it. Thankfully it’s relatively small and I can put it in the cabinet and not think about it too hard, but I do struggle with the fact that I can’t bear to part with something that I don’t particularly like because of the great sentiment attached.
I have made some progress. I sorted through my books and I got rid of a lot of them, I clipped the articles I wanted and recycled over a hundred magazines I had squirreled away, I donated garbage bags of clothes and linens, and just today I weeded through my videos and now in the age of Netflix I can part with many of the more popular titles that were taking up room on my shelf with the knowledge that I can access them any time I want. I’m getting there, and let’s be clear my house was never going to be featured on an episode of Hoarders, but I do have a basement and an “office” that I don’t let strangers see. In my basement I have a lot of craft supplies that I’m working my way through, I have a few things I’m storing for my mom like card tables and chairs, a dinette set and a large dog crate, and I have a ceiling fan, new in the box, that my father had bought and I am keeping it in case it can be used at my next home and none of these are particularly sentimental they are just sort of there, and eventually they will be used or gotten rid of. But there are four sleeping bags that have moved with me three times without ever being unfurled. One of them I bought for my back packing trip to Europe, but the other three are part of a set of four that were bought by my parents probably thirty years ago. I’m not sure where the fourth bag is, possibly my brother has it or it was lost along the way, but I’ve had the other three bags in my possession for twenty odd years. They are those big, old sleeping bags, with the heavy nylon outer shell and the plaid flannel lining. They are so warm that they are almost impractical for most camping trips and unlike most of the lightweight, easy to roll and store bags of today they are so thick that when rolled they have the circumference and depth of a stack of three tires from a compact car. I’ve kept them so long because I have this fantasy that one day I will go camping again. I will go camping and pee in the woods and I will have the time of my life. This is what I tell myself every time I see them on the shelves in my basement. But it’s a lie. I hate camping. I hate peeing in the woods. I hate mosquitoes and I’m terrified to carry things in my car that require fuel like camping stoves and lanterns. I like running water, air conditioning in the summer and most of all I can’t breathe properly at night without electricity so even without all of my other misgivings about camping, it’s not something I can do.
The sleeping bags were bought by my parents. They were bought when my parents still functioned as a unit. There were four of us and four sleeping bags and we went camping a few times at Bass Lake Campground. I remember my mother and I sleeping in our van which had a bench seat that made into a bed of sorts. I remember my father pumping the green Coleman stove and making us breakfast. I remember the ring he made on the top of the blue Coleman lantern when he momentarily forgot about the heat it generated, and he sat a foam coffee cup on it. I remember swimming in Bass Lake, and I remember laughing with my mother when we decided to give ourselves “mud treatments” and smeared ourselves all over with the mud from the bottom of the lake. When my parents divorced it was a good thing. They were unhappy, my brother and I were unhappy, the unit no longer functioned as it should, and changes had to be made. It wasn’t a happy time, but it was a necessary change that was long coming. I never really had any illusions that my parents would reconcile. My parents” relationship was a mystery to me, and by the time I was old enough to understand them as a couple and not just my parents they had grown so far apart that it was hard to imagine that they ever had anything in common, but I know that my parents loved each other with an intensity that most people only dream of. It only occurred to me a few months ago that my attachment to the sleeping bags was sentimental. It didn’t occur to me that they represented a kinder, gentler time when I was a little kid and my parents were invincible creatures who could perform magic and cure all ills with a campfire and a bag of marshmallows. I’ve promised the sleeping bags to a friend of mine for her sister’s trailer and if that falls through I will soon pack them up for Goodwill. I have pictures and stories and fond remembrances of that time and I’m finally ready to free up that shelf space.
– the Goddess