This week, not one but three of my friends cleaned out their closets. (Well, one was a storage unit, but same difference). It must have something to do with the changing of the seasons, the departure from May and the arrival of the summer months. It goes from warm to hot in Southern California, and suddenly everyone feels the need to strip down, declutter, show off their bikini bodies. For my three friends, getting rid of their stuff was a way of simplifying their lives, figuring out the essentials, clearing the physical and spiritual space for new possibilities. For me, it was Christmas in June. New bed, new couch, new clothes – woohoo! Never mind that every inch of my closet space is filled to the brim: bring on the stuff!!
I am, by nature, a hoarder. Old boyfriends’ t-shirts, decade old Easter cards from my Grandmother, Ikea dishes – as far as back as I can remember, I have had a difficult time parting with just about everything. Growing up, I maintained huge collections of myriad things – stuffed animals, Barbies, My Little Ponies, hair barrettes. It wasn’t because I was a collector, though, it was because I couldn’t bare to get rid of anything. And I do mean anything- I even saved used gum. I had a massive wad of it hidden away- dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of sticks worth, all chewed and stuck together- just in case. In case of what? Well, that’s a good question. A Wrigley factory explosion? A Guinness book of World Records attempt? A way to shut up my brother? Who knows.
My mom has postulated that my inability to throw stuff out stems from my early childhood years spent in Thailand. Living in a third world country, you learn not to waste. Everything has value, can be repurposed, may come in handy at a later date. People subsist on almost nothing, a dollar a day or even a week. When you can’t afford much, what you do have increases in value. If you own only one pair of shoes, or have just a little bit of rice for each meal, these become precious. Not that we were living quite under those circumstances, but as a missionary family we were surrounded by it. It’s an interesting theory.
Whatever the case, my struggle with hoarding has extended into adulthood. I can think of fifty things off the top of my head I could toss right now: a chipped red mug above my stove, a bag of clothes from high school at the top of my closet, candle jars burned a quarter inch to their life, perfume that probably smells like rubbing alcohol. Even as I type this I wonder why I haven’t thrown these things out. The answer: a potent combination of sentimentality and What if?
What if I get an audition for a cowgirl from the 1990s? Better hold onto that button up Abercrombie top and Gap jean jacket. What if I shoot another short film at a café? I’ll need as many mugs as I can get, chipped or not (and the red matches so well with my kitchen.) What if I’m out of disinfectant and need something to make my bathroom smell “fresh?” Better hold onto that Escada perfume from 2004! And you just never know when you’ll be hosting a séance – those candles have to stay.
This level of attachment isn’t healthy, I know. I hear Hannah talk about getting rid of her bright colored clothes because her wardrobe has matured into variations of “black and white,” and I think of how wonderful it would be to be able to open my drawers. Instead, I drive to her house and adopt all of the rejects – these shirts need homes, and I will make sure they find a little space in the back of my closet. Katelyn comes to town to clear out the storage unit she’s been holding onto for four years and I jump to it. Lamps, books, a TV, picture frames. I already own all of these things, but it didn’t stop me from taking them. This stuff is in great condition, and it was hers, and it has a history, and… and… what if?
Like I said, I’ve known I’ve had a problem for a long time, but I don’t think I really realized how bad it was until I started unpacking the espresso machine. My friend and I had given Katelyn the Delonghi as a birthday present 6 years ago, in an effort to save her money on her three latte a day Starbucks habit. It hadn’t worked, and the machine was practically brand new. My identical machine, however, had been run to the ground, so I was replacing it with hers. As I took my worn out Delonghi off the shelf and put it in a box in my mud room, my eyes landed on yet one more espresso machine – a Villa Spidem. I’d inherited this one from a friend a couple years back, had loved it, but it had since stopped working. I had kept telling myself I would have it repaired, but it had been lying dormant for over a year. I knew what I had to do.
Katelyn was removing a tool kit from my trunk when I stepped outside, Spidem in hand. “I keep saying I’m going to fix this, it’s an expensive machine, but I haven’t. It’ll probably cost a couple hundred dollars.” She shrugged. “Toss it.” She said it so effortlessly, like it was spoiled milk or rotting meat (two things I do not hold onto). “Yeah, you’re right.” I opened up the lid to the garbage can, and stared into the dark abyss. Goodbye, espresso machine, see you on the flip side. I held it over the mouth of the can one moment longer, and let go.
And a remarkable thing happened. The second I closed the lid, I felt lighter, somehow lifted. Now that it was gone, all the energy I’d been expending holding onto it and thinking about it was freed up. I had done it! I’d actually gotten rid of something! What a relief! I felt proud of myself, like I’d taken a step closer to Englightenment. I understand you, Buddha! I get it now! I practically patted myself on the back. And then a feeling of dread swept over me. Now that I knew what I knew- I mean, really knew it- it was time for me to do my own summer cleaning.
I hope the Goodwill’s ready.