Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The Garage

Mercy. Our garage is scary. Or, more generously; our garage is very interesting. It represents the lives of seven people; our past, our hobbies and odd jobs, our hopes and our fears. Four generations of collecting. It isn't only the individual contents that I am uneasy about. It is the volume; the cubic magnitude. It is the spider webs and mystery boxes. It is the ancient and rusted cans of cleaners, solvents, paints and bug sprays. It is the bucket of salvaged, hoarded hinges, screws and light switch plates. There are still unpacked boxes of books, clothes and toys.

I am nostalgic for the boxes that hold our past. I could never throw out photographs, awards, report cards or baby booties. These things are the tangible links to where we have been and I value the flood of memories that come rushing in when I read an old love letter or touch my son's first blanket. I will gladly shift these boxes, and carry them with me all of my life.

And where would we be without our pastimes? We'll keep the boxes of acrylic paints, the bird house kit and the cross country skis. No home is complete without tools, repair supplies and extra roof tiles, so those stay too. We store bottled water, just in case. And the ping pong table will be a blast, after we clear room for playing again. Decorations are a favorite holiday indulgence of ours. At least those are organized and stored neatly in cupboards, except for that one box of Christmas odds and ends. It is too full of post holiday sale items and pillaged ornaments and bows. I think with some reorganization, some generous donations to the shelter and more unpacking, we will be okay in this area.

But what do we do about those things that defy a rational place in our lives? This is touchy ground. My treasures and necessities, my 'investments,' are never going to hold the same value for anyone that they hold for me. Likewise, what others cling to and stow away, and move from place to place over a lifetime may seem to me rather trivial or even pointless. Because I am sympathetic I make allowances, exceptions and even accept excuses for those articles which by all reason should be in a thrift shop.

There are some things some people hold on to out of hope or fear, or both. I keep extra bedding, hoping for overnight guests. I have a small bag full of embroidery thread, all extras, because I can recall a time when I could not afford all of my favorite colors. Hopes and fears. We hope to go sledding, so we keep William's sled from our year in Minnesota. We fear natural disasters so we keep extra food and water, batteries and candles. But these emotions can get the better of us, and if we react to our fears and hopes by buying and collecting and storing and saving for later, then we run the risk of allowing our possessions to possess us.

I used to keep everything. Everything. It meant security to me. Those 'things' were hard to enough to come by in the first place and I felt it would be foolish to give them up. Even stranger, I would not allow myself the pleasure of using the 'good stuff.' It never seemed like the right time to wear my best dress or use the pretty dishes, and I wanted the occasion to be special before I would enjoy any of the things I treasured enough to accumulate in the first place. Sometimes I simply felt unworthy, other times I worried about being wasteful.

Time passes and everything ages and wears or breaks. And people do too. So, whether we use our things, or not, and whether we appreciate the people around us, eventually they will fade and leave. And fortunately, I have not lived too long before recognizing the futility of trying to preserve my stickers, buttons, wedding dishes and nice stationery. My husband deserves a lot of credit for this awakening. He has shown me that real faith means letting go. I had to learn that I could use things and enjoy them and let go of them. I still have piles of fabric I hope to quilt with, more than I need. But last year I cut squares of my fabric and gave them to the women at church for their quilts. I still save some things for special occasions, but I make more occasions special. Keeping things in a dusty, taped up box is what is truly wasteful.

This shift in my perception is often challenged by my greedy inclinations, but I much prefer to live unburdened by boxes of stuff. I enjoy the freedom that comes from not feeling possessed by the very things meant to make my life better. I do have many nice things, and a beautiful home, but my most valuable asset is the time I can spend enjoying people, a few pastimes and appreciating some of my material treasures. I do not want a garage packed from floor to ceiling with projects I will never make time to complete, and things I have never used. I do not want to carry extra shoes that don't fit well, books I didn't love reading, coats that smell of mildew or exercise equipment that even Jack Lalane would have thrown out by now. By releasing responsibility of useless articles I create more time and less stress, so that I can truly enjoy my family, friends and personal interests.

Our home projects right now are so monumental that I bargained with myself: "Don't worry about the garage until fall, after the pool and landscaping are complete." I need a break from stressful projects. But that darn garage is so freakin' scary. It looms and bursts forth in frightful piles of stuff. It is impenetrable and odious. And it is really, really embarrassing.

So, we are scratching my wussy plan to 'duck and cover' and instead, we are launching a full scale attack. We will finish the walls of the garage, so the room is less uninviting, and we will donate a lot. A whole lot. I will go through each box and do what every January issue of women's magazines tell us to do: Purge! Use it or lose it. Wear it or share it. Frankly, I am worn out just thinking about it. It's emotionally yucky (my choicest word for abhorrent feelings.) But the results will be liberating and worthwhile, right?

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