Culling through the clutter

My wife has decided we need to declutter our house, and I certainly can’t argue with her. We are pretty much swimming in a sea of clutter.

Brenda’s goal is to get rid of at least one thing each and every day. It could be a sweater she hasn’t worn in years. It could be a knickknack she doesn’t want anymore. It could be me.

While I truly believe in her efforts to rid our home of clutter, I’m finding it hard to actually give anything up.

For example, I went through my closet last weekend, looking for clothes I could donate.

I saw at least a dozen shirts I haven’t worn once over the last three or four winters. Of the approximately 25 long-sleeve T-shirts and flannel shirts in my closet, I wear only about five of them on a regular basis.

But when I look at the shirts I haven’t worn in years, my brain says, “That’s a perfectly good shirt in perfectly good shape, and you’ll surely wear it again soon.”

Therefore the only clothes I ever get rid of are those I can no longer squeeze into due to a medical condition that causes my hand to shove a food-loaded fork into my mouth … repeatedly.

Sometimes I can’t even get rid of clothes that are a bit snug, because I’m sure my medical condition will improve just as soon as I start my diet … next week … and I’ll once again fit into pants I can’t button right now.

Another problem I have is my inability to identify clutter. When I look at a bookshelf full of various M&M’s collectibles, I see things that trigger happy memories. But what’s really there is a bunch of dust-covered plastic taking up space in the bedroom.

I know professional organizers say that if we haven’t worn or used something within the last year, we should get rid of it. But that seems dangerous to me. I just know that the minute I donate all my Hawaiian shirts, which I haven’t worn in years, I’ll get invited to a luau. Better keep them just in case.

Before we had our carpet removed recently, Brenda had to empty her two china cabinets so nothing would get broken. The next weekend, as she was putting items back into the cabinets, she called me into the dining room.

“Do you know where that came from?” she asked, pointing to a large set of china on the bottom shelf.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Isn’t it from your mom?”

“No,” she said, “it’s not from my family. Was it your grandmother’s?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It doesn’t look familiar.”

Then she unwrapped a few china saucers that appeared to be hand-painted.

“How about these?”

“I’m pretty sure they belonged to one of my grandmothers, but I don’t know which one.”

Of course, we ended up keeping all the saucers, plus the set of china because they have sentimental value.

But do they really? Can something have sentimental value if you have no idea who it belonged to or how it ended up in your china cabinet?

My daughters won’t want this stuff, especially when I tell them, “Here’s some hand-painted saucers you can have when I die. Nearest I can tell they came from somebody you might be related to.”

And even if I know for certain that the china belonged to Grandmother Showalter, should I keep 20 plates we’ll never use just because my family ate Christmas Eve dinner off them all those years ago?

Yes, I should.

Things that belonged to my grandparents might be clutter, but they have meaning to me. They help keep my grandparents alive in my heart and in my memories. But my girls didn’t know my grandparents. They don’t remember my grandmother giving me a cookie from the owl cookie jar that sits in the china cabinet.

They don’t remember my grandfather lighting his smokes with the tarnished knight in armor with a helmet that’s also a cigarette lighter. It sits in my basement now, and I think about him whenever I look at it.

But I do hope that someday, when I’m gone, at least some of my clutter will be meaningful to my daughters and maybe even my grandchildren.

“Oh look, here’s that flannel shirt Dad kept for 40 years but never wore.”

“Aww. What’s that on the shelf over there, under all that dust?”

“It’s a … it’s a … it’s an M&M’s dispenser. Do you want it?”

“Heck no, do you?”

“No way. Didn’t he keep anything good, like a set of china?”

Doug Showalter can be reached at 379-5625 or dshowalter@therepublic.com.