Disposing of gently-used stuff, things that are “still perfectly good” in the Midwestern parlance with which we grew up, has always been hard for me.
We still have some of the leftovers from Ernie’s house that we closed more than two years ago, because I cannot bear to throw away things that are “still perfectly good” but for which we haven’t yet found welcoming homes. There’s a couch in the basement that Michael and I squabbled over for years: he’d had it at his first house, a hand-me-down from his grandmother, and then we’d slip-covered it (using a housewarming gift from his parents) and used it as our main piece of furniture in today’s home until we started being able to buy furniture some years into the mortgage on this house. Almost thirty years ago. Michael always wanted to burn it, but to me, it was a quality piece of furniture that was still perfectly good. We arrived at a nice resolution of this difference of opinion when, even more years later, we finished an area in our basement as storm shelter and moved the couch there. We’re both happy with this outcome. Michael never has to look at it unless there’s a tornado in the area, in which case he’s happy to have a comfortable (if shabby) place to sit. I know that we found a reuse for a perfectly good, sturdy, well-made piece of family history.
We’ve had clothes hanging in the attic for years that we’ll never wear again that I cannot quite bear to dispose of, even understanding how silly that is. Not only am I not ever going to wear any of them ever again, they’re not even likely to be seen as interesting vintage to anyone. Yet there they hang, in part because we have the luxury of a big attic, so I never have to face up to this shortcoming and overcome whatever it is that keeps me from shedding them. “Oh, I was wearing this in that picture taken at the last visit with my grandmother!” “I loved wearing this so much.” “This will just take too much time to go through: let’s forget this and turn to another area of the attic on which we can make real progress in the next hour.” I’ve said all these things and more that really all amount to the same reluctance to dispose of “still perfectly good” stuff.
This all came to the forefront yesterday morning while reading the paper. We mail Kearney interesting articles, a habit we’ve had since she first went to summer camp decades ago and have somehow never given up. (Is this related to the above?) I had a package of post-it tags I’d discovered in cleaning out a closet. Of course, it was a completely full package because I’d always put it back for “later,” not wanting to use it up. This is related, I know, to not wanting to throw away “still perfectly good” stuff, just at the other end of the spectrum. (“That’s too nice to use.”) In any event, I’d conserved these tags for so long that they’ve lost virtually all of their stickiness. Score another one for the dumb saving instinct.
Where does this come from and how does it get overcome? The instinct is bound to be neurotic in origin. I’m short these days on sheer will, applying most of that to getting done what needs to be done on a daily basis, and besides, it didn’t seem in long supply even when I wasn’t in the midst of Part Six—The Long Slog, as we’ve come to think about this stage of the recovery. At work, I’ve usually been partnered with vigorous pitchers-of-paper and non-savers, so our instincts have nicely balanced at “just right” for our records. Dedicated readers know that no one in my family is a big help, as Michael and Shea, in particular, don’t even always throw away discarded plastic wrappings without reminders.
Kearney’s “another later” seems like the answer today. Someday, though, we’re going to have to confront this warped saving instinct and start getting rid of even perfectly good stuff if it’s never going to be used again by us.
Michael says this post is more scattered than usual. Guilty as charged: the vertigo from the weekend has hung on, putting a damper on the week and fuzzing my thinking. Between that and Michael’s bout with the current local bug, we’re in slo-mo. On a grey winter day, that’s not a bad place to be. Send sunshine!