Killing the Inner Pack-Rat: Step One

Step One in Which We Admitted We Were Powerless Over Clutter - That Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable

First thing first: I married the antithesis of a pack rat. From early on in childhood, he would do semi-regularly clean-outs of his room, spending hours sorting through and throwing stuff away. My understanding is that his brothers would often wait patiently outside his bedroom door, ready and waiting to go through his unwanted treasures. I can't really look at them without thinking about vultures.

Meanwhile, way down yonder, I spent hours stuffing all my dearest toys, most of which I didn't play with (some of which I didn't recognize), into my closet until it was so full the door would only stay shut with a chair wedged under the knob.

I can recall the time I took my grandfather by the hand, showed him my treasure-filled closet and asked:

"Grandpa, how many toys do you think I have?"

"Well, I don't know, maybe a hundred?" he replied. (I now know he was most likely cringing from the pain such excess caused his soul....it might have been the beginning of his heart issues, I'm not sure.)

"And how many do you think I play with?" I asked.

"Well, I don't know. I suppose all of them," he said.

"Nope. None of them," I declared, slamming the door shut (and wedging the chair back under the knob). I am not proud of my utterly spoiled 5 year old self, not in the least.

At any rate, while I have been chained to my stuff from a significantly early age, my husband is incredibly unbound to material possessions. His idea of a great time is scouring closets and rooms and entire houses looking for anything and everything that is unnecessary and then tossing them into the trash. This process, which produces enough anxiety to force me into hiding in whatever closet has the majority of my stuff, acts like an opiate to Kurt, soothing his soul, smoothing out the rough edges, calming the intensity of his somewhat overactive cortisol gland (you may think there is no such thing but I promise you, he has one).  And while I am fairly certain he won't rid himself of things like his wedding ring or lawn mower, or his legs, I can honestly say that very little is safe from this obsessive drive to rid his life, our lives, of clutter. Sometimes I feel like even the kids and I are on the chopping block the moment we stop being useful. Watch out cat, your time's far overdue!

I, on the other hand, need no less than a twelve-step program to set me right again. Today, in attempt to clean out some of my junk room -- I'm almost embarrassed to admit I even have such a room but it doubles as my sewing room....and computer room, music library and instrument room, picture/scrapbooking/baby book library, ironing room, picture room, floppy-disk storage space (you know, for computers we no longer have), etc. etc. in other words, Kurt's worst nightmare -- I threw out an entire drawer full of free travel brochures and catalogs that I had requested over two years ago in case we ever took a real family vacation to Never-heard-of-it-Land, Midwest. They had been completely untouched, right next to the two drawers wedged full of plaques and awards from middle school and high school....and let's be honest, elementary school! Seriously, who keeps that stuff? It's almost a sickness.

But this week, I have been consumed by the desire to live more simply, to purge our life of the unnecessary, to make room for emptiness and not to fill it up again with random, unfulfilling things because by doing so, we leave no space for creativity, for relational experiences, for the holy and sacred. I don't know if it's because of the book I am reading for a second time this week (7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker) or if it is something that has been building for a while and this book has just opened the flood gate, but I do know that my desire to teach my kids about the things we value and to steer them away from excessiveness, from the "more is better" mentality that pervades so much of our suburban world and the American culture, is at the forefront of my mind.

So much so that last night I cleared out half my closet. Your welcome, Goodwill. You too, Kurt.

But, while Kurt is the perfect storm for deforestation of our home, I am full of sentiment, reservation, what-if thinking; the concerned citizen who opposes the controlled burn even though the prescribed burn is what creates a more optimal forest floor and minimizes the risk of catastrophic wildfire! Kurt worries about the clutter overtaking us while I worry that we may get rid of that one super important thing that has a 0.001% chance of being needed ten years from now by a child our neighbor hasn't even conceived yet. It's a problem.

A couple weeks back, Kurt held up a single black ski glove and asked the simple question: Does this have a match? I balked. If I told him the truth, that I didn't know where the other one was, he'd throw it. If I argued that I was still looking (for over a year now), he'd probably still throw it. I breathed deep to unclinch my jaw and told him the other one was missing and then closed my eyes as I heard the glove land with a thunk in the trashcan. And people, wouldn't you know, not more than two days later I found the match! The regret in the pit of my stomach was like no other. I wanted nothing more than to go ripping apart the trash cans but since that was the week of the plague, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I felt careless.....someone could have used those. We could have donated them. We could have given them back to their rightful, ten year old owner who can't seem to keep a pair of gloves intact to save his life. I thought of the waste, of the expense, of the cruelty (seriously, how did I not find it until two days too late!?) Meanwhile, Kurt's heart was a wee bit more joyful from holding onto one less thing. I imagined his spirits uplifted and his stress lightening and slowly, slowly it assuaged my grief.

I clearly have a lot to learn and lot more to undo because certainly this kind of living is the beginning of a person's unraveling. I'm jumping in full speed ahead though, under the assumption that it isn't too late to live the life we really want to be living.

And to those of you who have ever given our children anything, ever, they do not need anything else ever again. Outside of school uniforms, they will need exactly zero things. We have far too many things now and I predict even after this exercise of scaling back, we will still have far more things than we actually need. And if any of them ever asks you how many toys you think they have? Tell them too many and walk away quickly before they start begging you to buy them chairs. And door knobs.

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