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Clutter nonsense

I straightened up in the bathroom the other day and placed a clean throw rug in front of the sink. When my wife Carol came home that evening, she saw the rug and told me: “I don’t want that on the floor.” My response: “Where else would it go?”

I knew she meant she didn’t want that particular rug on display, but I have so few opportunities to zing her that I had to jump on the non-sequitur. More importantly — why, then, were we holding onto something we no longer had any use for?

We recently bought another storage shed to join the one we already have in the yard; the new one serves as a place for all the furniture we continue to keep that does not fit into our current home. When we moved to our lovely but modest lake house in Maine, instead of downsizing our possessions, we brought everything with us and just gerrymandered the boundaries within which they are legally permitted to reside.

When company comes, we offer a comfortable guest room with a few tastefully arranged family heirlooms on display. However, we’re able to do that only by relocating an insane amount of stuff into our bedroom for the duration of their stay — several barrels’ worth of family photographs and craft supplies, stacks of books and magazines, assorted folding chairs, two sewing machines and my exercise bicycle (which is actually a full-sized bike with the rear wheel sitting on a treadmill-like stand so I can peddle furiously without actually going anywhere, much like when I ride the bike outside). We can’t show overnight visitors the master bedroom on the house tour since we have to put a shoulder to our door to force it open.

Once in a great while when we are house cleaning (and by this, I mean that we house clean only once in a great while), Carol will look at me and say, “I’m in a mood to get rid of things.” This is a rare event, like a visit from Halley’s Comet, or a truthful statement from a member of the Trump administration.

We immediately jump into action once those words leave her lips; we fill box after box with no-longer-worn clothing, no-longer-used kitchen appliances, no-longer-functioning electronic devices and other redundant possessions, and rush them to Goodwill before regret has time to take hold. We unload so much during these trips that the IRS dispatches an agent to supervise the donations. Once everything is accounted for, he hands us a completed Form 8283 (“Noncash Charitable Contributions”), and to express our thanks we offer a bottle of wine (valued at $20 or less, as per federal guidelines), throwing in a few sticker books if the agent happens to mention there are small children at home.

Some people find it hard to give up things they rarely (if ever) use because of emotional connections to those items. That extra set of china that’s sitting in a box up in the attic? It belonged to your grandparents. That collection of Instamatic cameras, which they don’t make film for anymore? You’ve held on to them since adolescence, when your life’s ambition was to become a photographer for National Geographic. The dress you wore to your senior prom? That’s the night you lost your… contact lenses.

These keepsakes remind you of connections to family, or special events, or a time when your vision of the future excited you more than it might right now. I tend to be less sentimental than my wife, so it often falls on me in these moments to remain objective and ask that perfectly rational question: “Why do you want to hold onto something you no longer have any use for?”

Lately, I notice Carol staring at me for a long, long time before answering.

— John Branning

This essay is adapted from John Branning’s latest book, Keys To The Truculent Me – And Other Things That Drive Me Crazy. He is a well-meaning but woefully inadequate husband and father. John blogs at JohnBranning.com.

Reflections of Erma