(Pictured is the corner of my living room, complete with a shelf of stuff and one of the “red chairs.”)
One of the many charming things I picked up from my mother is my absurdly irrational (and highly emotional) attachment to stuff. I harbor some resentment towards her for it because it’s not as though she herself is a keeper of things. She is a giver of things and an inventor of little stories that make me feel as though parting with anything she has ever, in the history of my lifetime, given to me is absolutely out of the question.
I will now, for the benefit of the reading public, go over a few examples of such things.
My mother sends care packages for most major holidays. I’m crazy for it because I love it when people give me things, but even more than that I love it when people give me mass quantities of useless things. There is simply nothing more fun than digging through a FedEx box of glitter and tissue for random o’bjet de merde. I can usually count on a themed pair of socks, a chocolate shaped appropriately for the season, random plastic things, and a few bags of gummy candy to keep the hubs happy.
Most recently I received (I think…) a package for Easter. Easter is, of course, a strictly fake holiday around these parts, and my mother respects that by refraining from sending me anything resembling Jesus and pretends that the holiday is, in fact, a strict celebration of the existence of bunnies. (Which, in case you didn’t know, I have tattooed on my arm, so you can imagine how exciting that is for me.) The package was exactly as I had hoped, chock full of random useless crap, socks that should get me beaten up, chocolate bunnies, a few “special sussies” (which means she either didn’t get it at WalMart or it cost more than $5), gummy candies for the hubs, and a few of those pipe cleaner looking chicks with plastic feet that dont stand up straight and wonky beaks. There was most certainly a note about not opening it until Easter, but I obviously opened it right away and then lied about it.
But here’s the trouble. Somehow– and it happens with something from every package–after the candy was eaten, the socks put away for later wear, the chocolate bunnies taken care of, I’m left standing there, looking at those little chicks. Those little tiny chicks who are so small and helpless, their wonky beaks pointing in all directions. Those little tiny chicks who endured a four day ground shipment from Texas. I decide that I couldn’t possible throw them away. There is a pinprick sized ache in my soul. Something about childhood, a happy memory, years of therapy– I dont know–but whatever it is, I decide they must stay… so I hide them in a drawer, a drawer stuffed to the gills will the guilt of so many holidays before.
And then there was the time that my mother sent me a stuffed replica of bunny from Pat the Bunny, apparently a childhood favorite of mine. Attached was a note about the how much I loved the book as a little girl, followed by what could only be described as a momentary psychotic break caught on paper. Something about love and kisses and little tiny girls all grown up… and there I am with a goddamned stuffed bunny, a husband who is at his wits end, and no drawer big enough. (She did the same thing with Mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and then followed that up with a spell of sending me children’s books… mostly about bunnies. I have so many books about bunnies for children I dont have. And they all live under my bed.)
But I can’t get rid of them. I see them, consider giving them away, and I suddenly get a wave of guilt. I flip through the beautifully illustrated pages and think about my mother picking them out. Suddenly she is dead and I am eulogizing her through guilted sobs, praying to a God I dont believe in to forgive me and help me find those books. Those beloved and thoughtful books. Those books that meant everything to me and I was too stupid to know it.
Oh it gets worse.
When my parents parted ways a few years ago there was stuff galore. There was the dividing of Christmas ornaments, furniture, books, pictures, knick knacks. In an effort to make a clean getaway, many things were left unclaimed. In an highly, highly emotional state I accepted anything that was offered. They were, after all, the only tokens I had of the 25 years of union. Clearly, without these things I would be no one. In the years that followed, boxes would arrive to my 450 square foot (now 650 square foot) apartment randomly, filled with various things my mother decided I needed. Limoge boxes, lamps, rugs, pans, figurines. And I found a home for everything. I bought bookshelves, hung photos, framed photos. I think I was desperate to recreate something. I think I might have been sick in the head.
Recently, though, the husband and I have been making some changes to the apartment. In the most functional way that married people can, we’ve been trying to decorate in a way that expresses our taste “as a couple.” Since I subscribe to the belief that compromise is, in fact, just two people losing, we finally settled on dividing the house into sections and each taking a room or two, rather than try to work together and end up divorced.
The process has brought about a lot of change and opportunity for declutter, but it’s also been an emotional experience. My things, the things that actually aren’t mind at all, but rather reminders of baggage I need to shake to get on with it, are slowly fading. Everyday I face a shelf, a box, a bag with something that I should get rid of. But I still stand there. I panic about what happens when those things are gone. I worry that I’m going to hurt someone or worse forget someone because my memory of people, places, and things is wrapped up in the things around me. The book that reminds me of junior lit and that hilarious professor, the Limoges that reminds me of my mom’s 40th birthday party, which reminds me of those years that my dad kept buying her topiaries because she did such a good job pretending to like them. And then I remember that’s why I had topiaries at my wedding, because they made me laugh because they reminded me of our backyard full of topiaries… dying the sweltering Texas sun.
And then and then and then.
And then I need to remember that it’s just stuff. It’s just shit on a shelf. It means nothing. It holds no value. The husband hates it, loathes it. It’s a barrier to the life I want, the style I wish I had. We’re traditional by default… because traditional decor allows for the most random crap. And now we’re trying to express a new style, one that requires I get over it.
Now fast forward to present day. The hubs and I are sitting in bed, chatting briefly about the yoga studio I have been talking about creating in our apartment for months now. The hubs has conveniently rendered the apartment in ArchiCAD or some such nonsense, as well as built to-scale models of all our stuff to place in the faux apartment. He can, with the click of a mouse rearrange an entire room without us having to move a thing.
As we’re chatting I realize it’s time for me to dig deeper and come to terms with getting rid of some more of my stuff. (To my credit, I’ve been clipping along recently.) I decide I need to go big. We should sell the club chairs, two lovely red chairs that I received in the divorce, which also happened to be a time when we had no money and they were, quite literally, the nicest thing we owned. They are truly, truly lovely, but mostly taking up space these days and not the style that we now have “as a couple.”
I pick up my cell to text my mother. I tell her that we’ll probably be selling the club chairs soon and I need for her to emotionally prepare for it. Minutes pass and the phone beeps.
I explain that we’ve had them for years now, and though we love them, they are not really our style anymore and it’s time to move on to something else. I wait. And wait. And wait. And nothing. So I send her another message.
“Are you coping?”
I wait. Get up and brush my teeth. Get into bed. Finally the phone beeps again.
“Well, I guess as long as You don’t decide tHat i’m not your style”