Monday, January 26, 2015

The Big Purge, Continued

to my sister, Melissa 
who collects the Fisher Price toys and childhood books
that we threw away long ago 
by trolling for them on Ebay

Before driving up to Point Dume in Malibu yesterday, I tackled my bedroom. At one point I felt slightly panicked at all the shit lying on my bed, but eventually I finished throwing away, sorting into piles and otherwise tidying up. The thing is that I don't even have a lot of clothes or shoes or bags. What I have a lot of is books and stuff. By stuff, I mean things like my Brownie beanie and change purse or the strange little gingerbread man made of pottery that has a pink, indented stomach with the word GUM printed on it, for when you go to bed and need a place to stash your gum. I got it when I was about eight years old which makes it more than 43 years old.

I'm preternaturally neat so my clutter is very, very organized. I live in a very small California bungalow, but it might as well be a Chinese box for all the things stored inside. Ordinarily, you'd probably be impressed, but in these bourgeois stream-lined, mid-century modern times, you might suffocate or at least feel like you're drowning. The Japanese book that I've been using as a guide is fairly harsh in how it assesses what to throw away. You're supposed to do it all in a certain order, too, or else you'll supposedly slip back into slovenly ways. I read somewhere in it that you were to pick up an object or a book and say, Does this bring me joy? and if it doesn't or you can't answer affirmatively, you throw it away. That gum holder brings me joy, so it's staying on top of my dresser, next to the little wooden box that my friend Noa gave me when I got divorced nearly 25 years ago. When you slide open the secret panel, there's a tiny little note inside that says, in Noa's handwriting, The best part is always inside. That little box and note sustained me during one of the darkest periods of my life (when I had no clue on what was to come five years later!). While I appreciate the aims of this Japanese woman's philosophy and understand the whole yadda yadda of not allowing objects to own you or to be too attached to things because they're things, I think you can take the pathologizing of loving your stuff a bit too seriously. Does the little orange copy of Li Po's poems bring me joy? No, it doesn't. I haven't read it in probably twenty-five years. But it once brought me joy because The Boy I Adored gave it to me. Do the baby teeth in my underwear drawer bring me joy? Absolutely not, and I threw that away. I'm not a hoarder, ya'll!

You learn a bit about yourself doing this sort of purging -- the bit that's just plain weird, in my case.

For instance, gaze upon this old Charles Chips can that I once ordered from a Vermont Country catalog because it reminded me of the O'Connors, a wonderful family with whom we were friends when I was a little girl living in Convent Station, New Jersey. The O'Connors had five kids, all of whom were Teenagers, and they always had Charles Chips cans of potato chips delivered to their house and stashed in their rec room in the basement. Back in the late sixties and early seventies of the last century, having a rec room with cans and cans of Charles Chips was incredibly neat, as we would say, and when I saw it in the Vermont Country catalog, I probably flipped out a bit too much for comfort if you're a Japanese woman who's written a best-selling book about tidying up your life. If the memory of a shag carpeted rec room with some Barca loungers, board games, a pinball machine, a WiFi and an extra fridge that held popsicles and six-packs of soda cans makes you happy, you'll understand from where I'm coming. That I ate the chips and saved the can is probably not something that this quiet, serene Asian woman would approve, but you'll learn next that I put it to very good use.

Some years ago -- okay, maybe fifteen years ago -- I put a bunch of stuff inside it as an earthquake kit. I stashed it under the dresser, behind a basket that had one of Sophie's old giant therapy balls, deflated and folded up for -- what? When I pulled the basket out yesterday, I had to tug it so hard that I probably resembled those characters in the A.A. Milne Pooh Bear books who had to tug on Pooh to get him out of a hole where he'd been stuck eating honey. And yes, there was an inordinate amount of dust that came out, too. But I digress. Out of the Charles can, I pulled a first-aid kit, two jars of Ready Candle, one bag of emergency candles, a harmonica, a silver Tiffany baby cup and one set of silver Tiffany baby utensils -- clearly all essential to survival for three days (particularly stashed under a dresser and behind a deflated rubber therapy ball for easy access). Unless Baby Oliver or Baby Henry had somehow crawled back there one afternoon in olden times to stash their silver as the living proof of some kind of genetic proclivity to hoard, I have no idea why that silver was in there, but I do remember fancying learning how to play the harmonica, especially if I could wear one of those cool contraptions around my neck while I played the flute, too. Was I planning on entertaining the young 'uns over candlelight with some Bob Dylan riffs, our house caved in while the Sharpshooter Swiss Husband (long story) stood on guard, protecting us from those who were not as well prepared?

Does it bring you joy?

I took the silver cup, the harmonica and the baby utensils out of the Charles can and lovingly packed the rest of the stuff back into it, along with some pouches of water that have 5-year expiration dates stamped on them (due to expire in August 2015). Then I slid the can under the small wooden table that sits by my Barbie closet and right by the back door. This way, I can grab it on my way out to the shed where our 30 gallon tank of earthquake water sits, all ready to be siphoned. I have no idea where to store the silver things but know the secret lies somewhere in The Brothers' closet where I have boxes and boxes of keepsakes. And yes, they do bring me joy.


  1. I have 30-some photo albums, luckily with not too many photos of the The Someone who took most of the photos. I have a dozen boxes of divorce documents. I have a large closet full of musical instruments that belonged to the man who loved me. And two stand-up bases besides. I have two wheel chairs and a walker and a cane, toys that my children played with, and books and papers, BUT I have no water. Would you bring some up here please in a silver cup if we have an earthquake?

  2. Charles Chips! I remember Charles Chips, and those big cans, too! I used to see them in DC when we went north to visit my grandmother. Alas, she did not have the rec room. (Well, she had a couple of upstairs bedrooms that were used mostly for storage and held some petrified board games and old books. So I guess in a WAY she had the rec room.)

    Did anyone back in the day of panelled and shag-carpeted rec rooms ever worry about de-cluttering? This whole de-cluttering phenomenon seems like such a modern thing.

    Having said that, decluttering (and does it have a hyphen, or not?) fascinates me. I think it's all about re-acquainting ourselves with memories. I was a brutal de-clutterer when I lived in New York in my tiny studio apartment, so I don't have a whole lot of stuff from my childhood, but I saved a few things and I can absolutely appreciate the fact that objects are the cradle for memories.

  3. I have baby teeth in my underwear drawer too.

    I admit I'm confused, though, about this rec room that held barca loungers and "a Wifi".

    Life is so confusing. Nothing makes that more obvious than trying to tame our stuff.

  4. I can't even deal with the THOUGHT of all the shit I have.
    Come help me?

  5. What is it about putting baby teeth in your underwear drawer? I have them there, too. It must be because we know that our children will never, ever go into that particular drawer. (I also have a set of photos in there that I hope, for their sake and mine, they never find.)

    I love the trip down memory lane and the simple question, "does it give me joy?" I suspect that, for me, it would depend on the day and my mood. Fortunately, I have lots of closets.

  6. Dude, I think I had that same gum holder.

  7. I have little boxes of baby teeth everywhere. They still bring me joy, but are admittedly kind of disgusting.

  8. Good for you! Hard task.

    When we moved in May, I had about a week to go through everything as I packed.

    Time is a ruthless motivator. We threw a lot away and more went to Goodwill. I may someday regret getting rid of something but more likely will forget I ever owned it.

  9. I saw my first Charles Chips can when I went to college in Illinois, bought one as soon as I could, and kept it for years. I understand the "love!"



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