I have heard it said that the first step in conquering any addiction is to finally admit that you have a problem.
“Hello, my name is John and I’m addicted to stuff.”
When I came up with the idea to blog about getting rid of my stuff, I wondered if I would actually be able to do it (no, not the blogging, the purging). It’s difficult for a man, who has spent his entire life collecting really “cool” and “useful” things, to willfully give up his addiction without at least some form of internal beat-down of his entire basis of life. When something is so foundational, it often takes a swift kick to the solar plexus of the soul to make him realize that he has to do something about the elephant (read junk pile) in the room. What did it for me was the realization that, even though I love them, the things I have do not define who I am or who I was. In short, my stuff is not me.
When I mentioned this project to my friends, I received universal approval and a hearty endorsement to forge ahead and blog away. “Why not let me blog about getting rid of some of your stuff too?” I asked one enthusiastic friend. She didn’t respond, just bared her teeth and backed away from me, picking up trinkets and folding them in her arms until she had backed her way into the house and locked the door. I know exactly how she feels. I have talked myself in and out of this project countless times and now that I have picked out the first few items to get rid of (literally having to wrestle one of the objects out of the hands of my daughter), I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea.
I am not what you would call a classic hoarder. I don’t have a camera crew following me around turning up their collective noses at my “Willard-like” infestation of rats or my fabulous collection of antique cat poop. I don’t have 30 years worth of old newspapers or a car full of old shoes sitting on the north forty. The doors to all my closets close, I can walk through my garage from front to back (unless I haven’t taken the cardboard to the recyclers in awhile) and I shower and groom regularly. I am married and well-adjusted and my wife, while not finding me exactly handsome, at least doesn’t run screaming from me when I get home. But I do like to buy stuff when it’s a really good deal, even if I don’t need it, and I love to find great deals on stuff that I might need at some future date. My storage spaces are filled to the gunnels with the fruit of “great” deals and good intentions.
However, the “useful” items will be the easy part. I also have almost every bit of memorabilia that I ever picked up along the road of my first 20 years, and it is legion, and it will be like extracting an impacted tooth with twisted roots to get me to let go of it, and I’m not exactly sure why. No one is alive who cares that I won the MVP award at the Block F basketball tournament my sophomore year at a very small highschool of white kids, or remembers that I won medals shooting rifles, or that I hit a home run when I was 12. And, those that are alive and were there, couldn’t give a flying rat’s backside. Yet, I hold onto that trophy like it’s proof that at some point in my life I was really, really good at something, and for that sliver of time I thought I was someone really important. I guess I hold onto that home-run ball because I feel that getting rid of it would be somehow sacrilegious and morally wrong, like getting rid of a part of my soul.
I have clung to the hem of these items for years thinking that what is hidden in the storage room defines me and makes me great. I’ve recounted the glories of my past to my kids and shown them the baseballs and patches and medals to great effect, so much so that they now look upon these items like a monk looks at the finger bone of a long dead saint and, because of this, they will be saddled with the burden of dividing them up upon my death. It is hard to stare objects like that in the face and realize how truly inconsequential those moments were and how those things don’t do anything but represent a memory and a feeling and that it’s okay to let them go. And, it’s okay for my kids to let them go.
So, it’s time to finally bring them into the light, for they do no one any good where they are. I am going to open the sealed vault of my past, blow the dust off it and let you see what I’ve been hiding in my basement all these years – and some of it is not going to be pretty. I may cry myself to sleep at night or fall off the wagon frequently, but at least to begin with I’m going to take pictures and talk about what I find. I’ll sell some, give away some, and, I’m sure throw away some. In the end, I hope to have a better grasp of reality, a better archive of my past, and a lot more storage space in my house.
Post Script: My kids are not happy with me for doing this. It is painfully obvious that the sins of this father have been visited upon his kids in spades. I take this opportunity to apologize to all future and current spouses. It’s all my fault that they are like they are. So, children, if you see anything on these pages that you can’t live without, come get it before the neighbors do.