I remember, decades ago, when my Dad was cleaning out my Aunt Ba’s apartment. I wasn’t there, but he came home and described her apartment in St. Joe. He said there was a path from the front door to her favorite chair, and another to the bathroom, and a little path to her bed. He was explaining how Auntie would pick up a little box of hairpins and move it to one side of the room, then she’d find another set and move them to another corner of the room. She had these tin boxes of hairpins spread all over the apartment, but she could never find them when she wanted them. So if she found herself trying to put up her hair and no hairpins, she’d go out and buy another box.
She had magazines and newspapers stacked up on every flat surface. She had books and pictures in files and on shelves and in boxes. She had rare photos of her family, unidentified with no dates or places. She had library books from the NYC library that had been removed to make room for new books and given away to the librarians. She had hankies everywhere, most in original wrapping.
I remember my Aunt Ba. She was my great aunt, my dad’s mother’s sister. Her name was Bernice, but she preferred Ba (Bay). We would take walks through the college campus and she could name every tree and could identify every bird by its song. She was one of the first people to hike in Yellowstone after it was made a park. She never married.
She always ate at the counter because she was afraid my mom was trying to poison her. She was kinda weird like that. Her clothes were always neat and clean, and her hats were perfectly placed on her head. The seams in her stockings were always straight. Her vocabulary would shame English professors. Every Christmas, for most of my childhood, she would send a suit or dress from Sacs Fifth Avenue, a stuffed animal, and several books. The clothes were always itchy, but the books were read and cherished. The stuffed animals were hugged until they fell apart. She had traveled and explored and read and studied and I could never get enough time to talk with her.
Last year at this time, I got the word that unless I renovated my house, I would not be eligible for a refi loan. My original got sold and these goofs were giving me bad terms. I needed to get out from under that. They took pictures, then gave a list of demands. I cried for a long time…it was an impossible task. We had to redo every single room in the house with the exception of the bathroom.
We filled FOUR 20-yd dumpsters of stuff. I have another dumpster out there now to get rid of all the stuff from my garage and my office and my bedroom and my living room that were artfully hidden when they came to reinspect it for the “after” pictures. I found myself standing in the garage with a water bottle, a Panera gift card with no idea how much is on it, a tiny glass jar, a couple of family pictures and I’m stuck. I don’t know where those things go. I’m standing there and decide to lose the jar, and of course, it misses the bag and breaks all over the floor. I am paralyzed. I don’t know whether to go inside or stay out. I don’t know what to do with the water bottle, where to put the pictures, and I see myself taking things out of one miscellaneous box and putting it into another miscellaneous box. Net difference? 0. The garage is closer to being organized and emptier, but we still would never get a car into it.
I dread having my kids dig through my stuff after I die.
“Why does she have 9 trumpets? and 4 trombones?”
“Who are these people in the pictures?”
“Who has 40 empty picture frames?”
“Why does she keep the notes from the August 2009 Toastmaster meeting?”
“500 skeins of yarn? No? You found another stash?!”
“Did you know Grandpa Rounds was a mason?”
“Oh Look! is that Jimmy Hoffa’s wallet?”
Marie Kwon says to toss the stuff that doesn’t spark joy. All of it sparks joy!
I have 78 rpm records of Toscanini directing the NY Phil playing all 9 Beethoven Symphonies. I have baby pictures of my brothers and me. I have plaques and plaques and plaques of my unimportant accomplishments. I have over 1000 books. Getting rid of things petrifies me.