January 15, 2019
Posted By: Jessica Geary-Cecotti
Purge. Rhymes with verge. As in: woman on the ___. This is what I was last fall when my man and I decided to shack up together and I had to make room for a whole other middle-aged human and his stuff (pocket knives, fountain pens, bicycles, guitars, a CD collection . . . ) Now don’t get me wrong: Part of me was very excited to share my home and life with someone I love eight years after my divorce. But another part of me was terrified and the rest of me remained in a constant state of semi-hysteria/semi-paralysis.
Why? Well, because I’m not exactly a hoarder – not even close, actually – I’m more of a sentimentalist, if you will, but I had some clutter. What does that mean? It means that I like to hold onto things that have meaning for me, maybe more than I should. And some of these things have absolutely zero meaning for him. Plus – get this – my man is an engineer who likes things clean, tidy, organized, functional and purposeful. Yes, it’s true. Let me just put you out of your misery right now by giving you the happy ending up front: We did it. We did. We are now living happily together in my house with my kids (although one is in college) and all of the things we have accumulated during our combined 109 years, but getting here wasn’t always pretty.
We started in May with the garage. Let me just admit that my garage was so stuffed and piled with crap that I left a minivan-shaped hole in it whenever I backed out of it. Like in a George Booth New Yorker cartoon with clouds of floating detritus forming in each corner. Piles and heaps of holiday decorations (not just Christmas, but Halloween and Easter), books, photographs, files, camping gear, bikes, toys, old clothes and on and on. I was risking my life every time I walked through there. So. One sunny day I took everything out and started making the piles. Keep. Toss. Donate. Keep. Toss. Donate. I invited friends and family to go through the piles, and gave away all kinds of good stuff. I shoved the donation pile into the back of the van and offered things up to coworkers, even strangers. Anybody want a trampoline? Playmobil castle? How about a rooster statue? Anyone? My pal Erin took the trampoline home to her three kids and then later sent me a video of them bouncing and rocking out to Van Halen’s Jump. The rooster, on the other hand, tossed around in the back of the van until I finally dropped it off at Goodwill with some other stuff just last month.
The garage was hard, but the “clutter” was harder. Books, mementos, games, toys, photographs, my kids’ artwork and crafts . . . perhaps not every parent can sympathize. But this clutter was my life, my kids’ childhoods and our lives together. Memories everywhere. I had already started compiling bins of mementos for each of my kids years prior – their first shoes, baby books, special blankies, etc. My mom did this for me and I was grateful to be able to go though it as an adult and decide what to keep, so I am doing it for my kids. (I can already predict that my daughter will probably toss most of it without a second thought and my son will cherish every last thing.) But, for my poor childless man, all of this amounted to nothing but clutter.
We had various iterations of this conversation. Him, gesturing toward my cherished “antique” and flood water-damaged book collection: “Why do you have to keep all these rotten books? When was the last time that you read any of them?” Me: “Well, I haven’t read them lately, but they’re my favorite books.” Him: “Can’t you just check them out from the library when you want to read them?” My rage building, heart pounding, voice rising, sputtering, head spinning like Linda Blair in The Exorcist mixed with a drooling Gollum: “NOOOO!!!! Don’t you get IT!?!?!? They’re my . . . my PRECIOOOOOUUUUSSSS!!!” (See the aforementioned section about being on the VERGE – remember how it rhymes with PURGE?)
But the most agonizing was the red barn. When my horse-loving daughter was two, we got her one of those wooden Melissa and Doug barns. She would play with it for hours on end, sliding the doors open and closed, bringing the horses in and out. One day I was doing something in the kitchen, when I realized she had been extremely quiet for an unusually long time. I sought her out and found her happily painting the barn red. She had found the painting supplies all by her little self and decided that the barn should be red like all the barns she had seen in her short, curious life. Seventeen years later, that barn was taking up a chunk of precious real estate in the garage. I asked my girl if she thought we should keep it for her kids to play with one day. She said no. But I held onto it anyway. All summer long. As we primed and prepped her for college and continued the purge, the barn moved from one shelf to another until finally I had no choice but to toss it in the back of the van with the rooster. That was a moment.
You may have noticed that purging is having a moment all its own right now, thanks in particular to the Marie Kondo phenomenon of tidying up with the KonMari method of folding and sorting. And I agree with Marie about keeping those things that spark joy in you – that lift you up rather than bringing you down. Last night, my very own male German version of Marie Kondo and I watched her Netflix show with a mixture of smugness and distress. We looked at each other after the first episode and agreed that we didn’t need to watch other people do what we’ve been doing for the last seven months. And then we agreed that we should start Round Two of the purge this weekend.
Like most working single moms, Eleonore Snow runs full speed at all times and sometimes goes to the store to buy milk for her kids and comes home with only wine for herself. You can judge her, it's OK.