This weekend, whilst going about my normal non-work rituals, I realized that I have accumulated a lot of stuff. Over an unknown period of time, I have amassed clothing that I haven’t worn in years, copies of copies, birthday cards from various milestones in my life ending with a zero, and employee handbooks from jobs gone by. Why do I still have this stuff occupying space where I could easily store more stuff? The sad news is, I have things I don’t even remember why I kept them in the first place.
When I was in high school, if there were any printed mentions of my accomplishments in a theater production, Pop Ensemble (the Mt. Carmel High school version of a glee club), or my Eagle Scout project, my mother always wanted to have a few copies. She was happy to share these photos, programs, and newspaper clippings with her work colleagues, church friends, and relatives as many proud parents would do. I kept a couple of copies for myself because, in my mind I thought it would be a great souvenir of my youth. And so it began, my journey of collecting. This continued, not only with paper mementos but also photos, posters, and even rocks…yes rocks.
From high school in San Diego to living in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, and now Portland, I have acquired many wondrous stories and more importantly, memories of people and experiences from these places. Luckily, I don’t have to worry memories taking up space in my closet and garage, though with age, I do feel like my memory bank is pretty full. At parties and other large gatherings, I have to frequently ask a person their name in an attempt to forge a synaptic pattern. Ironically, the combination of both the physical things with memory create a strong emotional bond that sustains us in our future years in reflection. This is why I believe we as human beings hold on to physical things. We want to be reminded of the good times of days gone by in hopes of recapturing that feeling again.
One summer while visiting my mother in Puyallup, WA, she was sorting through old items in preparation for a garage sale and came across one of my older sisters baby shoes. The look on her face was one of comfort and contentment and even brought a tear to her eyes. This wasn’t a look longing for another child, but a look of remembering somewhat happier and definitely simpler times.
Some people hold onto things for investments: antiques, cars, and real estate. These are definitely nice things to hold on to that can appreciate in value if you are fortunate enough to have the necessary resources. Back in 2012, my retired mother-in-law had a huge HUGE garage sale in Lemmon, SD, of items she personally collected, inherited, and purchased at various thrift shops throughout the Midwest. She acquired enough stuff to cover 100 8ft tables in a gym. There was antique furniture, Indian (Native American) rugs, arrowheads, old toys (several pieces belonging to Eric when he was a kid), costume jewelry, and more. All of these treasures were unearthed from an old sale barn, and her basement at the ranch. There was enough stuff that an auctioneer was hired.
To carry these items to their final destination, we recruited Eric’s brother’s help in the form of the use of his cattle trailer. There was only one catch. Eric and I had to clean out the trailer. This trailer was caked in cattle crap. The walls, ceiling, and every corner had to be cleaned before we could even think about loading all the collectibles. It was July during our “work vacation” and the summer temperatures inched up above ninety. Armed with shovels, Eric and I quickly got busy. I honestly felt like I was being punished to slave labor or had died and ended up in hell. The smell was numbing and what made it worse, were the tiny biting flies that kept me jumping. As we finished, the sun was setting and I turned to Eric and said, “this is literally the shittiest job that I had ever done”! Well, at least you didn’t have to do the power washing, he said. He was right. Eric ended up stripping down to his underwear to do the deed and was covered from head to toe in cow shit. After all was said and done, the trailer was impressively clean.
Oh, the things we do for those we love!
Back to the present. I would never consider myself a collector of “things,” but what the heck happened? I have clothes that I haven’t worn in years, and yet I still hang on to them. Eric and I have a rule when it comes to buying new things or replacing. We can’t purchase a new piece of clothing without getting rid of something old. This works really well for us…most of the time. I have a pair of my old scout shorts that were, at the time that I was involved with scouting, were too large. Now, they fit my thighs nicely and hug my ass really well. They are perfect for romping around during June’s Pride festivities or the occasional dance party. That outfit is usually punctuated with a pair of my black leather Dutch combat boots! I’m not the only one with vintage clothing in the closet. Eric has a pair of red linen slacks that he purchased from the Gap at Horton Plaza some 35 years ago. He said he doesn’t want to get rid of the pants because I was the sales clerk that sold them to him.
It is a new year and regardless of the memories, some things must go. Here in Portland we have some really wonderful charities like Tod’s Corner that will not only accept clothing, but will also take some housewares too. The task of dealing with the accumulated paperwork will be a chore on its own, but easy to dispose of. The paper will be recycled or shredded if it contains any sensitive information. The clothes that I have purchased in the past and even now, aren’t those top designer brands that some folks may seek out. But I do know that someone will appreciate the sense of style and care these clothes will represent. Either way they will be well received.
After all, we can’t take all our things with us when we die. I don’t want to be known for the amount of things I had or left behind, and if there is something I can share with someone in need and have that create a sense of pride for the new beholder, then my job is done. Collecting things is easy, getting rid of them is hard.