I came home from our trip to visit family in Michigan this Christmas feeling overburdened by stuff. We, the owners of a small sedan, crammed our suitcases, diaper bag, bag of stuffed animals, a bag of books, a toddler snack bag, carry-on bag, three suitcases, a yoga mat, extra packages of diapers, one giant chest containing V’s holiday gifts, two paper bags full of our holiday gifts, a box of glassware, 5 pillows, and winter coats and boots alongside ourselves and our daughter’s car seat. Literally, we did not have room for one more sippy cup in our car. I am grateful for our families’ generosity for Christmas, and I am mindful that we have space issues with our small vehicle whenever we travel, but after dumping all the loot in our house, and unpacking it into our home, I felt an urge to purge some stuff that would not be stifled.
Perhaps it was the story about hoarders we listened to on NPR while traveling. Maybe it’s a ritual of frequent moving turned into habit. It might be my slightly obsessive nature when it comes to organization (have I mentioned that as a child, I used to unpack and ORGANIZE my room before playing on VACATION?)! I can guarantee that I’m not nesting, for those inquiring souls thinking the question. Wherever the impulse originated, I became a woman with a mission to eliminate excess from the moment we arrived home.
I started with the bathroom cabinets and countertops the evening we got home. As I unpacked our toiletry bag, like a woman possessed, I dumped out our medicine and toiletry chest, bagging up old prescriptions for disposal at our local pharmacy, tossing half melted cough drops, and reorganizing the whole lot. I consolidated renegade band-aids from various storage dumps in our home. My husband, M, exhausted from our 9 hour trip, looked askance at me, splayed out amongst bottles and boxes on our closet floor, but wisely refrained from persisting that maybe it wasn’t the best time to start a reorganization project. He’s learned over 13 years of loving me that I’m best left alone when in the zone.
The next day, I moved onto the box of junk on top of the refrigerator that we carted over to this house from our last move, a year ago. I found a missing hair clip of my daughter’s and restored it to its home in the bathroom. More band-aids reunited with their band-aid friends. A mug moved to our yard sale pile. A bookmark joined our bookmark box. Safety pins moved to my sewing kit. Coins clinked into our Superman piggy bank. Old batteries were recycled.
Our kitchen junk drawer was my next victim. Packages discarded. Unused child safety products were moved to the yard sale pile. Random, unidentifiable, broken pieces of things were trashed (hope we didn’t need them). More darned safety pins. Tools and tape rolls were pulled to move to our garage tool box.
I realized as I’m typing that my get rid of frenzy actually began pre-holiday, as I cleaned out my daughter’s closet, pulled baby stuff from her food cabinet, and began a preparatory sweep of her playroom. My plan was to dump my stuff on my unsuspecting and ever-gracious sister, who has a daughter a year younger than V. Duplicate and superfluous children’s books were passed on. Outgrown clothes and shoes, put to use. Room for new toys and books, minimal but more than when I started.
The stumbling block for me remains V’s playroom, where I know I still have work to do. I still am trying to find room for the toys my daughter has acquired over the three month spree of birthday and holiday gifts. At two, she hasn’t really grown out of any of her toys yet. We really haven’t purchased much for her, a play kitchen, a homemade dollhouse for Christmas and a few manipulative type toys. But our ever thoughtful mothers have continued to dig through their attics to bequeath upon us remnants from our own childhoods: Fisher Price airport set, Fisher Price castle set, blocks, baby dolls, dollhouse furniture, Star Wars action figures and ships, my old rolling horse, a table and chair set, and books. Every holiday, V is gifted with thoughtful presents from family and friends. It is all great stuff that V enjoys, but it just adds up. Short of building the equivalent of Dudley’s second bedroom (Harry Potter fans) onto our rental, something is going to have to make an exit to the basement, donation or yard sale pile. This is the task I most dread, feeling that whatever I eliminate will be the wrong thing, the sought out toy. I’ve already snuck a few items out under the cover of darkness after my daughter’s bedtime, and so far, so good.
The problem with clutter, as discussed by some of the participants in the NPR conversation on hoarding, is that we attach meaning and memories to items. Some of us aren’t wired to let go, and some things are easier to dispose of than others . Will my daughter miss half of the stuffed animals in her collection? No. She doesn’t even know she owns some of them. Yet she has a tote overflowing in her room because I remember each person who gave her a cuddly friend when she was first born or how I arranged them in her room when pregnant, eagerly anticipating her arrival. It is easier to disassociate with prescription bottles and old dishes than blurry pictures of loved ones, stuffed toys, that ugly plastic holiday placemat my grandmother gave to me. Over time, I’ve been forced by moves to pare down the items that do not meet one of two criteria: 1) It is beautiful, meaningful, and we love it and/or 2) It has a repeated function in our home. But when it comes to my child’s belongings, I’m encountering a roadblock.
So I’ll tackle the garage tool box, the office supplies cabinet, and my clothes closet before I re-engage with the playroom. I need to give it a little more thought, and detach from the things that aren’t beautiful and meaningful to my gal, and the things that don’t serve a repeated function for my daughter’s play. Hopefully, I won’t misstep along the path from excess to simplicity.
Update: tackled the playroom. All stuffed animals are still in the family. One obnoxious noisy toy and some fast food figurines in the yard sale pile. Handful of baby toys in the basement. Several broken plastic items, brochures and scraps of paper, hidden in the trash and hurriedly carried to the garage for pick up this week. A few storage boxes purchased and all toys have a home off of the floor…ah! I know I could have eliminated more, but for now, it’s progress.
Linking up with Things I Can’t Say for