Switching Gears

I really need to get some of the clutter out of this house.  It weighs on me so heavily it might as well be a physical burden.

The clutter here is a combination of:

  • Projects half-finished and therefore not put away
  • Recent acquisitions/purchases that haven’t yet found a home
  • Stuff that someone else has given us in an attempt to clean out their home
  • Dirty socks (seriously, they multiply under chairs and tables around here)

Most of the stuff taking up space in our home, though, are not current items being brought into the house daily through the mail/shopping/adventure du jour, or things being dragged out of their hidey-holes as we go about life here.  And we don’t have a lot of knick-knacky items collecting dust, so that’s not the problem.  Most of it, truthfully, is stuff I’ve held onto out of some sort of imagined obligation to family continuity.

For example, I literally have about 1000 books that belonged to my dad.  Well, maybe not 1000.  But it’s a lot.  Many of the books in our library were mine to begin with.  Like, I have about six Richard Peck novels (one of them autographed by the author- my first-ever autograph) which I’m pretty sure my dad never even read, let alone owned.  But probably more than half of our library stash are dad’s old (1960s and earlier) books from when he went to college, plus books he accumulated over his lifetime, and I’ve held on to them all these years because I felt like I ought to. Like there was some sort of eldest-daughter-as-family-historian requirement that I keep all this stuff. And they’re fascinating titles, like Finding Latitude And Longitude On Cloudy Days, Masterpieces in English Literature, A Handbook of Machining and Milling, Menlo Park Reminiscenses, Ovid’s Metamorphoses (I have my own copy, thankyouverymuch), etc, etc, etc.  Some of these are practically antiques.  The oldest volume I found was from 1861, with many in the 1930s-1960s range.   But interesting as they sound, I am never going to read them.

I don’t even like having them.

That bizarre epiphany occurred when I took a handful of titles off the shelf to clean, then decided to see if I could sell some to a used bookstore.  (Side note: if you want to sell books online, you pretty much have to have an ISBN number.  Many of my dad’s books were printed before they even had invented Times New Roman, so the ISBN number probably hadn’t even been dreamed of yet.)  Seeing that clean little space on the bookshelf was strangely liberating.  That was all it took.  I grabbed every book that had a searchable number and started furiously typing them in to the search box.  Powell’s offered me about $85 in store credit for 35 titles.  I took it and ran.  Meanwhile, another pile of outdated textbooks, anthologies, manuals, handbooks, historical accounts, novels, journals, and coffee-table books began filling the family room.  I pulled scads of stuff off the shelves, practically rejoicing in the knowledge that I had no intention of ever putting them back.

When DH and I were dating, a bizarre sequence of events happened that helped put me in this position.  I bought a house, just before my 30th birthday.  In fact, I closed in January and my birthday was in March.  The day before I turned 30, my grandfather died.  Nevermind that it sucked spending a significant birthday (or any birthday, for that matter) at a funeral home.  My mom and uncle had to clean out his apartment.  And since I had just bought a house, it seemed logical that all of his everyday things (lamps, chairs, dishes, etc) go to me.  And I was happy to take them, honest.  I firmly believe in the waste-not-want-not philosophy.  And I was poor, having just spent everything on the downpayment for my house.  It was nice to have drinking glasses and a light and not have to shell out money I no longer had in order to get them.

The year after grandpa died, I got married.  We got a good amount of stuff from a bridal shower that my mom and aunts generously threw for us.  We good another haul from a shower that my now-mother-in-law generously threw as well.  Then DH’s gramma died, so even more stuff arrived when they cleaned out her place.

Right after we got married- like 11 days later- my dad passed away.  It was expected, and my mom had already started to clear out her house in anticipation of downsizing.  Most of the stuff she didn’t have a use for came… you guessed it… here.  But I wasn’t complaining.  It seemed easy to just take everything and get rid of what I didn’t need later.

Then we moved.  I moved with DH to the house we live in now, and mom moved to a smaller house up the street.  More stuff came here when mom moved to her smaller house.

Then my mom moved to Florida full-time.  Aside from a couple of sentimental photos and her darn stick blender (the one thing I’d actually use), everything else ended up here.  Books.  Photos.  Family albums.  Dad’s records.  Tools.  Clothes.  Furniture.

So, in the course of 8 years, I have absorbed four households plus a ton of stuff my MIL has purged from her own ginormous collection of inherited family treasures.  She has a similar situation, except my FIL won’t let her get rid of anything.  Poor woman.

The problem is that I hate to throw things away.  Hate it. It’s not that I can’t let go of the object (although I have had a bit of a hard time getting rid of some of my dad’s more valuable possessions), it’s that I can’t stand the thought of burying it in a landfill when it is still perfectly usable.  I just haven’t found an efficient way to match up the unwanted but usable item with a willing taker.   So this is taking for-freaking-ever.  But at least I’ve started.

So bye-bye, dad’s old books.  I’ll check you out at the library if I have the urge to read Contemporary Literary Criticism any time soon.


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