Friday, May 04, 2007


Save me from the clutter

My name is Dani and I have a problem.

I am a packrat. More than a packrat, I have what is bordering on a pathological inability to throw things away.

What things, you ask? Well, I'm okay when it comes to throwing out dirty diapers and pizza crusts and apple cores and whatnot. But the rest of the clutter that migrates into our house on a daily basis, moves in and procreates in corners, in piles on end tables, crowding into bookshelves and spilling out of drawers? It's taking over.

Some of it I keep because I think I might need it again some day. Stacks of magazines with interesting articles on parenting and astronomy; recipes I might want to try some day if I ever develop a taste for food I don't currently like; things the boys might some day find interesting about art and classical music and politics. Newspaper clippings that are about people I know, or were particularly interesting, or I thought some day might lead to inspiration for an unspecified future writing project. Eight years worth of bank statements because once I needed to find one from the previous year. Containers of any shape or size, because you can never have enough containers in your life - even when they begin to take over your life. Flower pots, mismatched cutlery, coffee carafes, empty picture frames - because you just never know when they might come in handy. A full series of 1990 Topps baseball cards. Almost a dozen boxes of comic books. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of three million paperbacks.

Way too much space is occupied by things I think might make good crafts some day. We'd have to make a craft every day and night for the next six years to use up all the bits of flotsam and jetsam I've stashed away for unidentified future crafts. Meters and meters of fabric scraps, each scrap too small to be a quilt square. Ditto for scraps of wrapping paper. Construction paper with only one corner cut off, or one line drawn and then abandoned, saved for a rainy-day project. Socks with no mates, or socks with holes in them, that would make lovely sock puppets. Straws, popsicle sticks, shiny bits and sparkly things. Scraps of lumber leaning in the corner, waiting to inspire. Greeting cards from people I no longer remember, saved not for sentimental reasons but for the craft-able-ness of the pretty pictures.

Speaking of sentimental, that's a whole other category of stuff that I'm destined to keep for the rest of my natural life. Simon's soothers, for example. How can I throw them away? I think I still have Tristan's tucked away somewhere. And every greeting card I ever got from the people whom I do care about, like Beloved and the boys and my folks. Photos. Who can throw a photo away, even if you can't quite remember who the photo is of? And clothes that don't fit anymore, or are ridiculously out of style, but were bought for me by my mom. I can't throw those away!

Clothes are hugely difficult for me to throw away, or even recycle. My grandmother used to recycle my grandfather's shirts by pulling the stitching out of the worn collars and cuffs, turning them inside out and restitching them. Now myself, I can barely sew a hem and certainly not an invisible one, but I have baskets of distressed clothing that I imagine could be resuscitated - if I only could figure out how. And since Tristan is so hard on the knees of his pants, there are many pairs of one-kneed pants just waiting to be converted into shorts. Or, you know, to sit in the drawer and take up space for eternity.

And even the undamaged clothes I find hard to part with. I have five, maybe six rubbermaid bins of clothes too small for the boys that are stacked in Simon's closet. Some days I think I'm saving them for a potential future baby of mine. Other days, I'm saving them to sell on eBay. Mostly, though, I'm saving them because it's less emotionally difficult than deciding to get rid of them. That's without even mentioning the entire maternity wardrobe hanging patiently in my closet, from work clothes to weekend wear to underwear. I might need it, and if I don't need it maybe I can sell it. Or maybe give it away. But not yet - someday, but not yet.

And then there's the boys' artwork. They love to colour, to draw, to paint. I simply can't in good conscience bring myself to recycle their masterpieces, no matter how minor. They print colouring pages off the Internet by the ream, and each of them is a work of art, even the ones where they never actually got around to finishing the colouring. And now that Tristan is in school, he brings home workbooks and exercises in addition to artwork, and there's no way I can bring myself to turf the products of his labour. We'll need a new house to store it all by the time both boys have made it to university.

No wonder I can't keep the damn house clean - I spend all my (albeit rather limited) dedicated housework time taming clutter instead of actually cleaning. But I'm not ready to part with any of it. Not yet, anyway.

Surely I'm not alone. What do you collect?