I have a 12 item rule. Each day I try to throw away at least 12 items that are either taking up precious space in my home or that I feel are useless. Junk mail, broken umbrellas, clothes that don’t fit or that I no longer wear, magazines, old make-up; all of it finds its way to the trash on a daily basis. I have even tossed CD’s that I ripped to the hard drive, old photos of people I no longer know, old text books, college and high school awards, and music albums. Nothing is exempt when I decide to de-clutter my living space. I grew up with an older sister with whom I shared a bedroom, as well as a twin brother, so I naturally grew up with no emotional attachment to things.
A few days ago I threw out a piece of framed art my mother had given me a few years ago. It was of a cherubic angel girl and a bunny rabbit and I have always detested it, but I kept it on display for years in my bedroom out of courtesy to my mother. The action was a catalyst of sorts and spawned a tossing rampage. I began putting into trash bags and taking to the curb every single knickknack, piece of art, Christmas decoration, as well as a myriad other “seasonal” decorations that she foisted upon me over the years. The assorted items also included a collection of Winnie the Pooh memorabilia because I was told I should collect something. The fact I never expressed an interest in Winnie the Pooh had no bearing. I carried to the curb a child’s rocking chair that was supposed to be for Kate, but she never sat in it, not once. One of the rockers banged against my leg and caused a nice sized bruise. I threw away with glee boxes of Avon jewelry I had accumulated over the years; useless trinkets and baubles I would never wear.
When I was finished with my knickknack amnesty, I was tired, sweaty, but somewhat euphoric. My house looked better; my closets where most of the items had lived were empty and immaculate. I walked my elderly, incontinent sweet dog Jasmine at four a.m. the next morning and the picture and rocking chair were gone. One woman’s guilt laden baggage is another’s treasure, I suppose.
It was then I realized those things–those useless, aesthetically unpleasing, dust- collecting items I never wanted or would have chosen for myself—were merely physical manifestations of emotions my mother insisted I keep. Guilt, fear, shame, inadequacy, anger, intimidation, rejection—my mother gave to me to hold onto, to cherish as she did, to display…or even to hide away. The framed picture of the girl with the rabbit? It had hung in my bedroom for so long, I barely noticed it anymore. I had grown so accustomed to it I had forgotten how much I hated it. The stuff I shoved in the closets were forgotten most days, but when I ventured inside to retrieve a jacket or suitcase I was reminded of all the junk I hid away; if I wanted to put something new inside, I never had any room to do so. I would tell myself I needed to clean house, toss this stuff away, but never found the time or inclination to complete such an arduous task.
My mother grew up poor—she had two dresses growing up and didn’t enjoy indoor plumbing until she attended nursing school. When she started making her own money as a registered nurse, she began validating herself with her possessions. Her closets were filled with clothes that never had the tags removed and collections of porcelain bears that never saw the light of day. She has lighted curio cabinets filled with Fenton glass cats, angels, and miniature tea sets. My mother is now in her 60’s and realizes more and more a sense of her own mortality. One day she said to me she hoped I would take these things of hers when she dies; all these objects she venerates, holds onto, and that give her comfort. She panicked when I told her no. I told her that I will not take them, not one item—they mean nothing to me. My mother never seemed more like a child when she said, “But these are my things. I was hoping you’d take care of them when I’m gone,” and in a last ditch effort to ensure their safe keeping or perhaps to appeal to my maternal side, she added, “Kate will want them.” I never felt so empowered when I told her that Kate had no use for her things either. She will choose her own things; things that make her happy and that allow her to express who she is. My mother looked at me without understanding; she taught me what she knows which is to hold onto the junk—it’s more patient, more understanding than people.
2012 is around the corner, and with it, for me, is the promise of replacing the useless junk with things, people, emotions that I choose—not ones placed upon me by odious offenders or even the well-meaning friend or family member. Perhaps we all could stand to take inventory of our lives, our things…our junk. It’s never too late to unburden those useless things we hold onto.