In this stage of my life, I save less and less, fewer items, less stuff. I was thinking just yesterday that this summer’s project is going to be cleaning out my attic. It’s a disgrace really. The bug man can’t even get in. Imagine how many silverfish must live in those cardboard boxes, licking their chops at the delectable glue.
I don’t collect things, don’t want them. But sometimes, it’s esier to wing it in the attic than make a decision about it. I took a class one year on Women’s Time Management. I learned that we must handle an item only once. Throw it away, pay it, or file it. It’s good to keep these three options in mind regarding mail, husbands, and children!
But really, what’s in the attic is a collection of my life: old dolls and toys now antiques, a trunk from college with unknown contents, my grandmother’s purple needlepoint chair, a baby bed, Christmas decorations and wrap, a Halloween mask, Mardi Gras beads, old letters, rejected wedding presents with a gift number sticker still attached, high school spiral notebooks from Latin class, National Geographic magazines with pictures cut out and dog-eared pages of naked natives, hard suitcases with locks and no wheels, photographs of long dead relatives, and a file cabinet of once important documents.
Do I really think my children will want this stuff? Of course not. They have plenty of their own. The next generation seems more streamlined, less cluttered. There’s a Goodwill store a mile from their house where they seem to take donations every week and they know the employees by name. Outgrown, out of style, out of favor—out it goes! Much simpler, and someone else can use it.
So, this summer, out my stuff goes. I don’t care a whit about it. No more getting bogged down by the past or feeling sentimental about a high school notebook. The new rule is: if I haven’t looked at it or worn it in 50 years, to Goodwill it goes! Why did I save it anyway? Was it to jog my memory when memory fails me? There’s an idea. Now, what was that Latin teacher’s name?
Carol Henderson said:
What I Didn’t Save
I think it was about five years ago, when I was on that decluttering jag and clearing out my office cabinets, that I came across them–several manila files full. They were clippings from the New York Times; some were long pieces that spilled onto a second page and were neatly stapled; many were single sheets—above the fold because the date showed in the upper corner. All were yellowing and frayed at the edges.
In blue pen and that unmistakably clear rounded cursive, she would have written something like, “I thought of you when I read this. Fascinating life she had. Devotedly, Mother.”
Every morning she read the paper searching for just the right pieces to send to me. Did she do this with my sisters too? Probably. I can see her, in that coral wool bathrobe, scissors in hand, a chintz patterned cup and saucer half-filled with tepid coffee, her black hair with the gray blaze caught back in a toothed headband.
In those days I was too busy to read the New York Times. Still am. I don’t even think we subscribed then. But I could count on Mother to send me articles I would want to read, most of them obits about women—explorers, writers, scientists,
On that cleaning tornado a few years back, Mother was still quite alive and coherent. I told myself, I can’t keep all this paper. One or two of these clippings will do and a few of her letters.
My client B. says to never throw anything away. Leave that to others. He has all the letters he has received from his mother over the years, the homestead proof from his great grandfather, the letters he wrote to his daughter that she saved and copied.
But I didn’t listen. I toss
ed a bunch of the clippings Mother sent and probably many of the letters. I didn’t know then that right now, today, I would like to know what she clipped for me on that fall day in 1987. I want evidence of her. I would like now to compile in chronological order all the clippings she sent me over the years. Where was I when she sent them? Where was she? Who had died? What about this person made her think of me and care enough to clip and send me.
I have only a few clippings—and a letter or two. I remember looking at the huge piles of paper on the floor, gleeful at relieving all this clutter from my sagging, overfull file drawers.
Now that mother is dead this long year, I want to consider every piece of her. What I didn’t know in my cleaning frenzy.
I comfort myself by remembering that I did write her obituary and I read it to her as she lay dying. She would be pleased with that clipping, I think. She would have sent it to me, had it been another woman’s death.
Will my daughters save a copy of it?