My treasures are under attack.
Lately, I’ve been experiencing unsolicited advice to rid myself of clutter, downsize my living quarters, and abandon my current life style. Why? Because I am (oh dread) a senior citizen and (double dread) a woman living alone.
One friend, a retirement community resident, repeatedly reminds me that in a couple of years I might be physically unable to clean out the basement, attic, and bedrooms crammed with my “stuff.”
“Clean out while you can still climb the stairs,” she warns. “Clean now, before you lose your marbles and wind up throwing out the cat with all your junk.” (I don’t have a cat.)
“I’ll deal with those things when they happen,” I answer. “Or, maybe I won’t. Anyway, I refuse to worry about them now. I could be dead tomorrow.”
She changes her tactic.
“Isn’t it unfair to stick your kids with getting rid of all this stuff?”
“It’s their job,” I object. “It’s what kids do. I cleaned out my mother’s house, touching her things for the last time. Remembering and laughing; crying, too. My kids can manage a few days of that. And if they can’t, they have my permission to heave everything into a dumpster.”
“You won’t even remember the things you got rid of,” a former neighbor told me over lunch in her very new, very modern condo. “It’s like starting over. New appliances. New furniture. New life.”
When I got home I stared at my “old” foyer wall covered with photos, masks, drawings, and framed art prints which, over the years, I’ve brought home from places both near and far.
Get rid of my ink sketch of the Brooklyn Bridge? My Venetian Mardi Gras mask? Photo of me in front of Notre Dame? Or the elephant sketch I watched a blind Thai artist complete in a pineapple field? Why? Unlike my ex – neighbor, I don’t want to discard and forget.
In addition to my condo friend, my children are suddenly concerned about my stuff.
My youngest son, middle-aged and with a family of his own, spied a tall, cylindrical cookie tin on top of a bunch of other items I had set aside to be thrown away.
“Why is this here?” he asked.
“It’s dented, the paint is mostly worn off, and the inside is rusted.”
“But this was our cookie jar.”
“Not exactly. We had a very nice ceramic, actually Lenox, cookie jar on the counter for years.”
“I only remember this tin one.”
“When you were very little, maybe. But then we got the Lenox one.”
“I don’t remember that.”
I knew the battle was lost.
“Do you want it?
“Yes, but not now. When the house gets sold.” Smiling, he added, “a very long way off.”
“Right,” I smiled back.
In the meantime, however, I stuck a piece of masking tape to the bottom of the tin and wrote his name on it.
“It’ll be here for you whenever you want it.”
I never suspected the cookie tin meant so much to him. Did I now have to fret over not only the disposal of my own treasures but also the discarding of the broken toys, yearbooks and prom souvenirs, comic books, and Tonka trucks still on the basement shelves?
The arrival, that afternoon, of a “created on-line” photo album of my recent trip to Ireland, offered a solution.
I-phone in hand, I started taking pictures of everything.
A hundred photos later, I am now, with the help of Snapfish, designing a photo book with carefully captioned selections: a framed picture of a baby, me, being held aloft by my mother’s brother on his return home from WWII; my first doll, her painted face still bright and rosy; my wedding veil, hanging,yellowed and wrinkled, behind my closet door; lunch boxes, the A-Team and Star Wars; my children’s books, Curious George, Where the Wild Things Are and Tikki Tikki Tembo; a pile of baseball mitts, in varying sizes, all tucked into a milk crate in the garage; items in the china closet, Waterford wine glasses and my mother’s demitasse set; the Woolworths’ 79 cent red star that sat every year atop our Christmas tree, and, of course, our first cookie jar, dented and rusted.
Perhaps, like my mother, I’ll stay in my home forever with my stuff.
Or, perhaps, I’ll clean out this house and join my friends, for a “new life” in a practical, friendly and clutter-less condo community.
Either will be okay.
I will have my book; I will always have my treasures.
And if they don’t chuck my book into the dumpster, my children will have my treasures too – as well as a few of their own.