I abhor clutter. It goes along with my mildly anxious temperament, which I try to delicately balance in this crazy busy world by intense periods of quiet and solitude, sporadic yoga practice, and a home in which everything has its place. In addition, I grew up with a mother who seemed to be totally unaffected by sentimentality over anything old or used, her belief that anything could be replaced at anytime, and that nothing should be saved, because when you die, your treasures become someone else’s responsibility, which translates in most cases to garbage. As a result, I am very fickle with my possessions, and when something new comes in, something old must go.
I also have children. Children who, as I did as a child and before I knew better, save every chewed-on pencil eraser they have put their fingers on and every drawing on scrap paper they have created. Anything that comes into their possession is regarded by them as a part of their lives forever. Until they were old enough to clean their own rooms and do a generally satisfactory job of keeping their personal spaces neat and tidy, the task fell to me, who quickly boxed up and gave away or threw away everything they had ever cherished or wore or played with. Rare, semi-valuable objects of theirs were crated, labeled, and stored with the intention of being passed on to my children when they are adults and can more realistically decide what to do with them.
In recent months, my children have been bringing an alarming number of things into their bedrooms that they want to save. Whole mobile homes made out of shoe boxes for miniature stuffed animals, piles of scrap paper bearing the words “Good job!” and “Try better next time!” that they use when playing school, and large posterboards scrawled with pictures that are rolled into tubes. Not to mention the junk made from garbage like cereal boxes and egg cartons that are held together with pieces of tape and rubber bands filched from my desk drawer. A rubber ball stuck through with safety pins. Polyfill pulled from an opening in the gut of a stuffed pig is piled inside a shallow box and serves as a bed for a small toy squirrel. All this Junk is stored under their beds and on every flat surface, mocking the neatnik in me and daring me to put it into a bag and rid my soul of it forever.
Today is garbage day, and I did just that.
Maybe it finally got to me, or maybe it was that I felt that the children had earned enough time with and grew creatively enough from their art pieces, but I quickly and carefully bagged up exactly one garbage bag full so as not to alarm their animal-like acuity in sensing when things go awry in their bedroom-dens. I buried their treasures under real garbage like used tissues and meat packaging, and created garbage like shredded paper.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little bad about it, but man, these kids are packrats. Nothing falls through their sticky fingers. And don’t think for a minute that that my children are helpless victims: they fight back with every shred of manipulation and excuse in their shrewdly sympathetic arsenal. Once I found a tag off of a new shirt displayed in the center of a pile of rubber bands on my son’s dresser. After I tried to throw the tag away, my son fished it out of the garbage can and informed me that he was saving it. For what purpose, I couldn’t imagine, but he explained it was from a shirt that he placed a high importance on wearing, and that it was obtained at a time in his life that he wanted to remember forever, and this makeshift shrine was exactly the way he wanted to display it. He told me once that he likes to have everything sitting out that he owns so that he can look at it. My husband told me the same thing once. Not to worry – there are a couple of Sports Illustrateds lying around that will be meeting their demise in a black garbage bag, and soon. I will figure out how bad I need to feel about that later.