By K. Taylor, Aurora ON. I’ve been on a major de-cluttering spree the past week or so. Inspired by a good friend, I got the bug and bravely began the daunting task of digging the house out from under the piles of outgrown clothes, forgotten toys and broken sports equipment that seem to mark modern family life. There is no escaping it, no matter how you try. As the stork lands at your front door, plants an enormous likeness of himself on the lawn and flaps off into the sunset, so the stuff begins to arrive.
It’s all so innocent at first, so reasonable. Baby needs a crib. Who could argue with that? Baby needs a change table. Baby needs a stroller, a bouncy chair, forty-five adorable little onesies and an assortment of devices and contraptions so unrecognizable to the general public that the living room starts to resemble a very colourful mediaeval torture chamber. Yes, gone are the days of making a small space for baby in Father’s sock drawer. And so the onslaught of plastic begins.
It takes all of about three weeks for baby to outgrow any one of these gadgets, which then get relegated to the basement or garage, as the next wave hits. The toddler years are especially difficult. Everything is large. So very, very large. And garishly coloured. And plastic. Oh, the plastic.
False hope is the hallmark of the school years. The toys get smaller; so very, very small. Seems pretty good at first. But as anyone who has ever lived with a child can attest, those tiny little bits of plastic are harder to control than a kindergartener hopped up on birthday cake. Massive structures which Must Not be Broken, appear on dining tables; elaborate games using hundreds of pieces sprawl across living room carpets; and I shall not mention the pain these tiny pieces do to the soles of the feet. Parents everywhere are wincing; this I know.
You can try to raise children without the plastic; or at least without so much of it. That’s what I tried, and yet in this I was a miserable failure. It comes from everywhere, doting grandparents and great-aunts; birthday parties. From every corner the world seems to want to heap stuff on our kids; and it all ends up in our closets.
Then there are the outgrown clothes, the sports equipment, the works of art churned forth from the most prolific artists known to man. Did Da Vinci’s mother have to deal with reams of paper, all depicting another Pokemon character? Did Michaelangelo’s? Unlikely. Although she may have had to deal with him drawing on the ceiling.
I have tried over the years to keep the house (more or less) liveable. “We don’t want to be like those people on TV,” I warned after my Mother-in-law showed the kids a programme on hoarding. They shrugged, and tore into the latest loot bags.
Undaunted, I grabbed a garbage bag and went to work. By my best estimation we are now at almost fifteen bags of stuff to give away. Its only an estimation as the pile is now threatening to topple and crush me; I ain’t going in there to count.
You wouldn’t have known to walk in the house that we had so much stuff. It didn’t appear to the untrained eye that our home was slowly being consumed by a monster of our own making. But stuff lurks. It creeps. It burrows into the backs of closets and drawers. It hides in plain sight and you don’t even notice until it’s gone and your house suddenly feels so light you imagine it might float away on balloons like the house in Up. Float away to some distant, clutter-free land.
So, what to do with all that stuff? Well here’s what I did. The clothes (mostly hand-me-downs) were either passed on as hand-me-down-downs or I am donating to the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy. They have a truck that comes to town once in a while and they will pick up the toys and clothing. Of course there are many charities that will happily take your stuff and sell it on to help their organization, and many people sell their stuff online; but I’m far too lazy for that, so I just called for a pick-up which is very lazy-friendly.
Old towels and blankets that were really past their prime were donated to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Ontario SPCA) in Newmarket. Along with some unopened cat food that is no longer required now my cat’s on a special diet, the annual cost of which rivals the GDP of Lichtenstein. And finally some old soccer shoes were traded in for a larger pair at a local second-hand sports store on Hollandview. A few things have been put aside for the household hazardous waste and sadly, some is destined for landfill.
There’s a lesson in all this for me, though I’m not sure I’ve grasped it. Perhaps it’s that our things are only ours for a short period, so enjoy the moment, then send them forth into the world. Rather like the kid’s they once belonged to. Perhaps it’s the reminder that the space taken up by stuff from the past, impedes the living of today. Perhaps it’s a reminder to really understand how lucky we are; that we can gripe of having too much. Or perhaps it’s a reminder that we really don’t need half of what we think we do.
I’d like to go minimalist, but my kids and pack-rat husband may have something to say about it. In the meantime I think I shall take a cup of tea, and go admire my newly tidied linen closet, before any more stuff marches in that door.