I can tell it’s officially spring because yesterday I was hit with an overwhelming urge to take everything in my house, pile it in the driveway and burn it.
In my pyromaniacal fantasy I haul room-fulls of stuff out into the street and pile it up until all my precious individual things have blurred into an undifferentiated mountain of shit. I’d pack a suitcase like I would if we were going on vacation for two weeks and set it aside and those possessions would become my only possessions.
Nothing else would be spared: clothes, kitchen utensils, catalogs, educations toys, not-so-educational toys, paperwork, dish-ware, table runners, cute baskets full of pencils and extra tape, home improvement essentials and project leftovers, gardening bits and pieces I save, “just in case,” – all would go on the pile. (Books would be spared. Even in my anti-materialism fantasy bender I take the care to set books aside to donate.)
I’d finish off junk mountain with the extra canister of two-stroke gasoline we keep in the shed and strike the Zippo lighters I haven’t used in a decade to really get that mountain blazing. I figure I’d have news helicopters and the police cars at my house within about 10 minutes.
Call it Organization by Cop: jail decor is quite minimalist, I’d imagine.
Of course, arson is not a good way to declutter. I know that, and my fantasy will remain just so. In the meantime, I am confronting, yet again, how much shit I own.
This happens every year. It’s as if the Inspirational Goddess of Spring Cleaning watched Hoarders and freaked out a little just before she came to my house.
Other than garden stuff, a handful of books and those yoga pants I had to buy in my new, officially larger size, I don’t think I’ve purchased anything for home or me in years. The last major clothing purchase I made was a few maternity pants and tanks, and that was about 2 years ago now.
The kids don’t get doted on via shopping either. My son has a thrift store wardrobe and I have purchased exactly one toy for him. It was a dump truck made from eco recycled plastic or something, and I bought it because, even though he was 15 months old and couldn’t have cared less, it was Chirstmas and I was pretty sure not getting my kid at least one toy at Chirstmas would make me a shitty mom.
I shouldn’t have bothered. With no help from me that kid has more toys than he knows what to do with, and he still prefers the tupperware drawer.
(Speaking of tupperware drawers, where the hell are all my lids? I think the containers must get hungry at night and eat their own lids. Tupperware cannibalism is the only explanation for the consistent lid attrition I’ve suffered.)
My daughter is reaching the age where she’s discerning. She recently turned eight and made a list of everything she wanted for her birthday.
This is it:
- Sleepover with Grace (her best friend)
- Movie with treats (popcorn) during sleepover
- Lots of attention
- No chores
- Waffles for breakfast
- New bike (her old one was painfully too small for her, having been purchased when she was 4)
- New set of pens (her brother has systematically chewed the tips off her old set of markers)
- Elizabeth Swan figure for Pirates of the Caribbean Lego ship (she was very disappointed that the Black Pearl Lego set did not come with any girl figures)
She got every single thing on that list, and we threw in a few books for good measure. I was such a zombie when she turned seven (her brother had kept me awake for 6 months at that point) I probably would have dropped serious coin to assuage my mama guilt – thrown a big whole-class party or something – but her requests were so reasonable I couldn’t not grant them all.
But if you ignore the birthday, she’s not spoiled for possessions either. Books, maybe, but other stuff happens on holidays and birthdays or she buys it with money she earns.
So I can’t really tell you where all this stuff comes from. I just know my house feels positively stuffed with it right now.
I oscillate between a desire to have a home comprised entirely of clear, clean, clutter-free minimalist surfaces (“Surfaces, darling! Surfaces!”) and celebrating my Grandpa’s Depression-era mentality on frugal living: “You got to have a certain amount of shit hanging around.”
At the moment I’m feeling more surfaces than grandpa’s garage. It’s not that I dislike my stuff. On the contrary, if an item has made it this far in my house, and through this many fits of anti-stuff mania, there is a very good chance I find it either useful or beautiful, or both. For the most part, we have good stuff: well-made furniture, good cookware and knives, useful and transporting books that I cling to like childhood friends.
But even the items that have made the cut in past years are on the chopping block now. Adding another child to our family has brought ten times the stuff maintenance to our home: clean-up, put-away, tidy, wash, manage the possessions ad nauseum. I hate spending my time this way, sorting small things into small containers over and over and over while my toddler son dumps those same containers on the floor, over and over. And over.
And so I cling to this hope, irrational though it may be, that if I can reduce the stuff I will reduce the work.
Every year, I hold out this hope. I haul things to the donation station. I recycle, I toss. And the next year – every year – I wonder yet again where the hell all this shit has come from.
But this year will be different. It has to be different. If not, look for me on the evening news. I’ll be the crazy lady with the sooty clothes and the melted plastic toys stuck to her driveway.
One of my favorite bloggers recently posted about toys and kids and the clutter monster too, and offered a few practical ideas beyond pyromania for handling this aspect of householding. If you feel my pain on this topic, you’ll feel hers too.1