We’ve moved. After almost twenty-five years in the same house, collecting stuff at a speed rivaling that of a packrat on steroids, we decided to downsize. More accurately, we were forced to downsize and move--there was simply no more room in the old ramshackle, five-bedroom house. Unless you count that tiny spot in the spice cabinet where I finally threw out the tin of paprika, circa 1986. I horded that empty space for weeks, agonizing over what to stick back in there; new cheesy Florida souvenir I picked up at Goodwill or my high blood pressure medication. Decisions, decisions.
It had gotten so bad that, virtually, every nook was filled, every cranny was...what is a cranny anyway? The barn was stuffed to the cob-webbed rafters with Dan’s tools and his own brand of packrattery. Most of which is stuff unrecognizable to me. Maybe that’s the key to the sanctity of men’s collections. If women can’t decipher what the heck it is, they are less likely to use it as a trivet, stir paint with it, or craft it into a throw pillow.
And is it built in to their DNA or something, this obsession men have with saving tiny screws in baby food jars? Ok, ok I can understand that one, after all, I still have most of my children’s baby teeth lovingly wrapped in Kleenex and tucked into my jewelry boxes. Three kids, times twenty-eight teeth each, you do the math.
Dan, bless his organized heart, was also responsible for the huge collection of boxes taking up the entire attic. Empty boxes. Whenever we bought anything new, toaster, computer, refrigerator, Dan made a point of keeping the “original” box. We might need to pack that item up someday, he reasoned. Unfortunately, the box always outlived its contents leaving us with enough “original” boxes to build a small original corrugated nation.
My packrattery is much worse than Dan’s, however. Much, much worse. While his stuff is generally relegated to the barn and attic and ocassionally the trunk of the car, mine stretched the length and breadth of the entire house and the yards as well. Collections of old View Master viewers, piles of National Geographic magazines spanning the ages with such arcane articles as “Kuala Lumpur, Jewel of the Wooden Ruler Industry” or “Pork Rinds, Not Just Bubba’s Snack Anymore”, mayonnaise jars full of buttons, four typewriters, bags of pine cones, cookie canisters exploding with wads of rubber bands (instead of cookies--my kids gave up hoping years ago), hundreds of antiquated peg-style clothes pins, oh I could go on, but let’s just say, I may have a teensy problem when it comes to collecting stuff, or letting it go.
Now that we’ve finally decided (read: were forced) to downsize and move to a smaller home, I’ve gotten through the initial withdrawal period by telling myself I’ll be much better off without all the extraneous trappings of materialism--as long as I can keep a few beloved pieces. The lava lamp came with us, the Don Mattingly photo and Carrom game (baseball fans will understand), most of the books, all of the record albums (except maybe the Time-Life series of Slim Whitman’s Greatest Hits), the garden gargoyles, the toad house, the bee skep, my pirated rattan porch furniture, somebody stop me...maybe I’d better review those extraneous trappings.
So, how does one relieve oneself of extra stuff, you might ask. The first step to getting rid of excess packrattage is of course, your children. No, I don’t mean get rid of the kids themselves (though some days...) no, I mean make your kids come home and take the stuff you’ve been storing for them in the attic (along with your husband's collection of "original" boxes) since they went off to college—sixteen years ago. There are only so many stuffed animals that the average chipmunk can chew into nesting material.
Next, push as much stuff as possible off on your neighbors. Remember, you’re moving. As long as you don’t give them a forwarding address, they can’t drop it back in your yard after dark or while you’re at the grocery store.
After that, start filling the pick-up truck with all the stuff you haven’t used in the last year and cart it off to the recycling center. This includes all exercise equipment, every low fat cookbook, the vacuum cleaner, and that can’t-live-without-it kitchen aid you bought from the QVC channel one night when you couldn’t sleep.
Or, one of the best ways I’ve found is (Warning: Testimonial Alert) something called Freecycle.com. An internet give-away site that challenges its members to “change the world, one landfill at a time.” No, really. To date, I’ve unloaded, er, given away an old movie projector, a baby gate, a garden bench, a do-it-yourself tire balancer set, headboards, tables and chairs, crafting items, and a stack of Pennsylvania Game News magazines from the early 1980’s (I reeeally hated to part with them). And I’ve met some very nice people in the process.
The house we’ve moved into is roughly half the size of the old one. The closets are small enough to be called imperfections in the drywall and there is no barn. But I’m not worried. I’ve already got a plan for future collections.
As long as Dan sticks to the tiniest of screws in the smallest of jars, there's sure to be room for the grandkid’s baby teeth.