Organize. Dispose. Downsize. Reading baby boomer and retirement blogs, I’ve learned that successful aging requires completion of these tasks. Like a test for the successful boomer, if your life is contained in more than one storage unit, you’re not ready to pass the “go” of retirement. Tomes have been written about the importance of shedding unused clothes, yard tools and untouched, I-wonder-what’s-in-there? boxes hidden in dark attic corners. Getting rid of clutter is so ingrained in our mindset that it has evolved into its own verb: decluttering.
I dislike the term. It cheapens the lifelong accrual of possessions that are personal and precious. My recent trip up the attic stairs revealed several Pandora’s boxes hidden in shadowy corners, containing priceless artwork painstakingly and lovingly created by my kids when they were toddlers. My eyes well up at the memory of their chubby fingers clutching fat oversized crayons as they created their masterpieces. “Look, Mommy, this is for you!” they would say, as they presented me with a magnum opus that adorned the refrigerator for the better part of 10 years. Yet, the experts would advise that I trash these one-of-a-kind treasures with the coffee grounds and orange peels of today’s breakfast.
“How could you?” I hear my mother’s voice admonishing me at the thought of discarding kiddie art. “Throw it out!” barks the decluttering specialist perched on my other shoulder. The discordant voices of my unconscious amplify my conflict as a baby boomer trying to reconcile my past and my present so I can move into my future, baggage-free.
Struggling with these dual realities, I despair at finding a resolution. What kind of person am I if I toss Grandma’s wool coat, which still holds her aura and stirs up remembrances of shopping with her in the small town where I grew up? How do I transition from the mindset that says great-Grandma’s lace doilies which I’ve never used during 35 years of marriage have a place in my home and heart forever?
I fear that once I start disposing of yesterday’s memories, my history will end. Perhaps I should heed the wisdom of my millennial son, who espouses what he calls a “minimalist” life, as the third voice (since I’ve run out of shoulders, I’m not sure where he’s perched) telling me “Get rid of it all.” By the way, those boxes filled with kiddie art contain some of his best childhood works.
Over the past five years I have cleared out the homes of both of my parents, in their late ‘80’s. To say that this was an exercise in frustration and emotional hand-wringing is to minimize the experience. But, I came away with a pledge to spare both my sons the task of clearing my clutter.
Although I doubt that they’d hesitate for a moment about trashing their childhood art, Grandma’s coat and great-Grandma’s doilies, I see myself moving emotionally unscathed from yesterday to tomorrow and completing the entire transaction in a 4’ x 8’ U-Haul cargo trailer.
Problem solved. Tomorrow I head to the grocery store to stock up on boxes.
NOTE: my attitude on this topic has changed since my September 17, 2014 post Nimble Geezer. Perhaps the conflict between the burden of belongings and my personal history is more poignant as I approach retirement.