I’ve come to a new place in my life. I no longer feel bad about the clutter in my basement … and my garage, my attic, my nightstand, my closets and the trunk of my car. Once you reach a certain age, junk seems to accumulate, but instead of calling it “junk,” I refer to it as “mementoes,” “collections,” “antiques” or plain old “stuff.” I’m more enlightened now.
On the train into the city, I pass dozens of lots and backyards filled with abandoned cars, debris, rusted machinery, steel drums and trash. This leads me to two conclusions — “You are not alone,” as they say in 12-Step programs, and “America is beautiful in a junkyard sort of way.” The crazy thing is that I pass just as many self-storage places like Westy’s, which proves that as a country we’re committed to clutter. It’s a constitutional right.
This, of course, is what happens in a consumer culture where your disposable time and disposable income are spent acquiring more and more. I have to confess that I love “stuff” too much — from cribbage boards to books, from typewriters to fountain pens. It’s a family tradition.
When my father passed away, he had so much “junk,” as my mother described it, that I was beginning to worry he might be a borderline hoarder. He had tools, hardware, gadgets, scrap wood and dozens of pairs of socks that he never opened.
I suspect he developed that habit from growing up during the Great Depression with eight brothers and sisters, who put paper in their shoes because they each had only one pair of socks. He never forgot that deprivation and made sure he’d always have enough socks the rest of his life.
When he died, we filled two dumpsters and had them hauled off to the transfer station, which probably compacted his belongings, put them on a barge and shipped them out to the Atlantic Ocean for disposal. I’m convinced that someday I’ll be walking along the shore at Sherwood Island and look down to find a pair of socks that he bought at TJ Maxx.
My life has pretty much followed that pattern. I have books on the shelves, books on the nightstand, books in bins, books stored in a barn in New Hampshire and books I’ve hidden from my wife in the trunk of my car, just so I don’t have to listen to that perennial lecture that starts with the question, “Why do you need all these books? We have no room for them.”
There’s a little hoarder in all of us. One of my friends saves magazines, which are stacked to the ceiling in her basement, and just like me, she’ll never read them all. Another woman I know saves bits of string for some strange reason. They’re too short to fulfill any apparent need, although someday I’m sure they’ll prove more useful than her old cell phones.
I avoid going into our basement because we still have boxes that haven’t been unpacked since our last move 25 years ago. My rule of thumb has been if you haven’t opened it in five years, you don’t need it, so toss it out. I was going to do precisely that in a rare fit of self-cleansing until my wife informed me I was about to throw out our wedding photos and invitations.
When I pass into the Great Hereafter, my kids will probably discard everything, just as my sisters did when they cleaned out my parents’ home. I avoided taking part in that purge, however. Ever the sentimentalist — or “junk collector” — I would open a drawer or desk and reminisce about some object I found. Instead of tossing it, I’d save it.
As a result, I still have my father’s Army pay record from World War II, along with his discharge papers, a pair of initialed cuff links, photos of him in his fatigues at the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees, and a lot of other good stuff I’d never ever call “junk.”
Contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani [at] yahoo.com.