Monday, February 23, 2009

For Keeps

Dustin and I are playing another round of "keep that sweater." This entails D standing at the end of my bed with a pile of sweaters and sweatshirt, holding one up at a time and waiting for my approval or disapproval. We've done this before. There is a "keep" pile and a "Goodwill!" pile.  At the moment, he has disappeared into the other room to retrieve another pile and I am watching the "keep" pile grow taller by the second. 

This is a sensitive time in our relationship: the sorting of the clothes. When I look at my own clothes whilst sorting through them to make room or get rid of stuff I simply don't wear anymore, I feel as though I am fairly even-keeled about it: 'This doesn't fit anymore, it's time to send it on to a new life,' or 'I adore this shirt, but it's misshapen and doesn't look good on me anymore,' or 'Damn-I never could pull this gorge dress off, as much as I hate to admit it, it was wishful thinking"...etc. Don't get me wrong-I don't always relish the task of going through my enormous walk-in closet (the one I don't share with anyone, but have somehow managed to completely fill from corner to corner and top to bottom!) sorting through piles and hangers upon stacks of clothes and shoes. I especially hate it when I find an old gem-something I love, but forgot about amidst the traffic jam of newer or cleaner clothes that rest atop them. And I really hate it when I see a shirt or skirt I wore a year ago in a picture, but can't locate it now. Any of these reasons is enough to get me irate about the state of my clothes and the need to let some pass on to their next life. I just can't keep it all, no matter how well-loved it is...and, eventually, I have to admit that I probably won't ever fit back into my size 0-2 clothes and just need to stop pretending, check back in with reality, and toss 'em in the Goodwill bag.

For Dustin, though, it's more sentimental. I have seen some of the sweaters he holds up for me in pictures from his college days, some, maybe, from even earlier. He has items of clothing that are favorites, some that he inherited from his brother, some that I've given him and some-no, scratch that-many of which he earned from running in a race or attending a camp or competition or from acting in a play.

It's not just clothing that, at times, is difficult for Fi to part with, it's other things, too.  For example, we went home to Cape Girardeau this weekend to visit my future-in-laws/D's wonderful family and while we were there, D's mom did something I recognized my own mother doing years ago when I still stored much of my stuff at her house: she was giving it back, ever so gently and kindly. Each time I'd come home from college or grad school, where I had a place of my own, mom sent me back with boxes of my childhood items or asked me to go through and "get rid" of anything I "didn't need or want anymore," from my old childhood bedroom. The task was long and daunting, but when my parents moved from my childhood home to our Hilton Head home permanently, only three small boxes of mine accompanied them and the rest I had gotten rid of or moved along with me. 

When I moved from grad school to Missouri for the Ph.D. program, all my items fit into one, small trailer. Let me rephrase that: Everything I owned in the whole world fit into one, small trailer. Yeah. Telling, isn't it? I felt good about that-sort of like Jimmy Buffet's or (for my lit major readers who will be disappointed in that simile) Thoreau's protege-someone who needed few to no material objects. I wanted to live simply and carry all that I needed in the world on my back. Seriously, though, I did. This might explain the small trailer (my mom insisted I have furniture and stuff-you know how mom's are) that fit my entire life. I didn't need or really want anything else. Few of the furniture items I had were worth anything, most of them were donated by family and friends, none of them came from a store. Here is a brief inventory of what filled (I use that word loosely) my apartment in Pittsburgh:

1 couch-left in the apartment by the previous owner who could not get it out the door when she moved
1 small corner table shaped, specifically, for a corner-donate by a nurse that cared for my grandma who was in a Care Facility at the time
1 old-school, tiny and incredibly top heavy diner table with four wire chairs (the ones with the heart shape wire backs and putrid yellow plastic seats)-donated by my aunt and uncle who owned a few restaurants along the way.
1 twin sized bed-my cousin's old bed from his childhood that had previously been in storage because he'd moved on to a newer, larger, adult-sized bed. Mind you, he's three years younger than me.
1 extremely old, falling apart, broken/missing knobbed dresser in flaking white paint with cracked drawer bottoms-also donated by my aunt and uncle from my uncle's old apartment-just something they had hanging around and couldn't get rid of-it didn't last but a few months in the Pittsburgh apartment! I couldn't even open half the drawers.
an old chair-courtesy of Grandma
a cassock (square table where I placed my tv)
a TV-given to me and my sister in high school, but still in working condition
my clothes and shoes
a few boxes of my stories and essays
mismatched pots, pans, utensils and a new set of glasses, courtesy of my Mom and Dad along with a new set of dishes from them, as well.

This is a complete list of what I came to Pittsburgh with. The items that came to Missouri with me were even less: all of the above minus the bed, dresser and couch. Oh, and I purchased a nightstand over that two-year span of time, two breakfast bar chairs and a replacement dresser from Target that I got rid of (it broke), as well. The TV is gone now, too.

I still have some items, as you can tell: the nightstand, cassock...etc., but much of it had to go. Just like when I leave Columbia, certain items will not be making the next trip (my brother's futon from college that we've been practically gluing back together, for example, possibly my nightstand...etc.) It's like life, of course (you totally knew I was going there, didn't you?). The lifespan of these items in my world has either come to an end or is coming to an end. This isn't to mean they are no longer useful, but it's time we go down separate paths and continue our lives without one another. We're just growing apart. That's just how life goes. Not everyone and everything gets to stay forever.

I think that's how Dustin sees it and why it's so hard for him to get rid of stuff. As I was saying, before I rudely interrupted my own train of thought, D's mom piled him up with some of his stuff while we were there: a box of stuff I couldn't quite make out, a guitar and amp, some papers and books, an extension for the vacuum cleaner he's had for years...etc. Needless to say, the car was definitely fuller on the way back than on the journey there. Eventually, she asked him if he wanted to take the mirror that connects to the dresser he has here in Columbia. He debated this and I asked him, "Are you going to use it?" He answered, "No." "Then why take 
it?" "Because it belongs with the dresser."

I was confused. Why take something you don't plan to use? More than that, why take something that goes with an item that's not in great shape anymore that may not make the next move we make? Why keep taking things that we have to, then, find space for?

Dustin explained that the dresser was his mom's. "Your first dresser? When you were growing up, right?" He asked her as we stood in the kitchen, me trying to understand.

"Well. No. My first dresser was the small one with the three drawers on one side and the crawl space for a chair and another drawer on the other side."

Nonetheless, the sentimentality is ingrained: this was his mother's second dresser. The one she used through high school when the first dresser was no longer big enough for her items. The one she gave to Dustin because she didn't need it anymore and he was moving out. The dresser with the missing handles and wonky drawer-tracks, the nicks and scratches and discolored sections, the dresser I could not imagine lugging along with our slowly modernizing furniture collection was still, despite his mother's lack of sentimentality for it, his mother's from when she was a child.

I get this. Not only do I get it, but I totally respect that stance. Though, I have to admit that a small sense of fear crept into my mind when I thought: He might never want to get rid of it. He might want to keep it forever, even if it starts falling apart in our hands or rotting clear through. We might have this until the day we die! And I'm guessing my eyes widened at this realization because Dustin spoke up, "When we sell it or donate it someone else might want that mirror, ya know?" My fear subsided and I watched him, armed with two faded posters of various dinosaurs, march back out to the car to pack up more items.

It was then his mom said it, "There are things I get sometimes or have from-oh, who knows when or why-and they're nice when they're given to you as presents for the thought of it and that...but I wouldn't want them in my house. The office or at school in my classroom would have been fine, but not in my house. Even in my house, not too long back, I started to notice pictures on a wall or items hung up that I just didn't want there anymore so I'd just go ahead and take them down and rearrange."

I knew she understood what I didn't know how to articulate at that moment or many moments following that when Dustin accused me of being unsentimental (then apologized) or when he said he needed to get rid of things on his own terms or even when he told me he asked his mom not to send stuff home with him anymore. No one wants the leftover stuff, the stuff that gets left behind, including the owner who left it, because no one wants to deal with how to send it off into the world when there are only two options for a pair of dinosaur posters that used to hang, beloved, in the room of a little boy or an old, yet functioning, dresser that just doesn't quite fit into the new life that's being made: Goodwill or garbage. And, the core of this problem, the heart of it all is that no one, and I do mean no one, wants to throw away their memories.


  1. You've seen my apartment. I get it.

  2. :) I love this post! I think me and Austin are the same way. We do 3 piles though: (1) goodill (2) keep (3) memory box. hehe I keep plastic boxes of cloting that was just SO me that really defined a time and know that it will stick with me. One day i'll LOVE opening that box. It happened already when I hoped my high school box and pulled out dresses from danceline banquet and these cargo pants i was addicted to! It's hard to not be sentimental... I still have the roll top desk my dad got me when I was 10! LOL

  3. I spend every day in an office in a storage facility, where I watch people with strained faces drive to their storage unit full of items that are left over from another time in their lives. A time that was probably less happy, I am guessing. No one ever rents a storage unit on a good day. There is always a closing of a significant life chapter involved. I sometimes hear people telling me they're having a sale soon, and they'll downgrade in size--from 200 square feet to 150, say--but they never, ever do. "But Dad gave this to me!" "But this is my daughter's dance recital outfit!" Never mind that Dad gave it out of a sense of "What am I going to do with this silly thing?" or daughter is going on forty. It hurts people to acknowledge that life is changing, that paths are differing, that what they loved once is now a burden on them emotionally and psychologically, not to mention physically and, now, financially. By the time you're at a point when you are willing to pay someone like me an alarming amount of money just so you can keep convincing yourself that you're still ahead of the mess ... it's hard to watch, is all I'm saying. Kudos to you for recognizing and at least attempting to avert this! Blake and I are both children of collectors, and we are making a concerted effort to keep our accumulations to a minimum. Which is another reason why we bought a small house, too. Because, you know, affordable payments are great, AND there is less temptation to buy every secondhand armchair we run across. Note I said LESS.

  4. You girls are great... I think I write blogs sometimes just so I can read the comments we sometimes get :) I love it. Thank you!

  5. :) Hope you're having a good March so far!