Hoarding And Purging


Photo by Julie Edgley, via Flickr

My grandmother once told me that she and my grandfather wrote many letters to each other before they got married. He was in the military, stationed in California, and she lived with her family in mid-Missouri.

Being very interested both in stories and in family history, I perked up. “What happened to those letters?” I asked. “Can we read them?”

“Oh, I don’t have them anymore,” she told me. “They got thrown away in some move over the years.”

I’m sure I gave her a dazed look. I couldn’t understand how something so obviously precious could be put in the discard pile, no matter how many times you moved (I’ll grant you, my grandmother and her ten kids moved a lot of times).

I didn’t understand until yesterday.

You see, yesterday I began plowing through the accumulated saved mail of two forty-year-olds’ lifetimes. Let me introduce you to our catch-all closet:


Look, I have a red ribbon around my letters too. Or, well, a piece of yarn. Don’t you see it?

Over the years, Christian and I have both gone through the memorabilia and ditched about half of it. But neither of us have ever had the energy to tackle all those shoeboxes full of cards and letters. (Letters. Remember those?)

Until now.

You see, I have to clean out half of this closet. Julianna, at 8 1/2, needs to quit sharing a room with her brother, who is no longer a baby. But if Michael has to move in with Nicholas, then Alex has to move downstairs.

So I’m purging. As I sifted through the box containing the first two years of our marriage, I found Christmas cards from random parishioners, invitations to ordinations, and birthday cards with neither date nor personal message written on them. And I realized:

For most of my life I have been a hoarder.

But no more.

These days, I am ruthless. When you have four kids, especially little ones who bring home half a ream of paper crafts a week, you have to be. If I was a hoarder these days, every time we opened the front door, it would look like Hogwarts invitations coming out of the Dursleys’ fireplace.

As I was tossing birthday cards with no notes, only signatures, I had a moment of self-doubt. That’s my grandmother’s signature. She’s not going to be around forever. Shouldn’t I keep that?

No, I decided. No, no, no! I have letters in her handwriting. I do not need every card she ever sent me! Into the recycling with you!

Then I opened another card containing only a signature. The signature of my other grandmother, the staple of my childhood, who died two and a half years ago. And I instantly started crying. Not much. Not for long. Just long enough to give me pause, and make me pull back a bit.

I suppose the reality is that in this, as in everything else in life, balance is a moving point somewhere south of preservation and north of progress. It’s a tension that informs writing, as well. Not every note I write, every word that comes forth from the mouth of cough-cough-genius-cough-cough, actually deserves to be heard. But sure as I hit “delete,” I want it later. So my poor editor got a music file a couple of weeks ago entitled “This Joyful Is A Mess,” with a note to ignore those last twenty measures, because I just wanted to hang onto them in case I needed them later.

And as for the basement closet, well, I figure, if I purge even a third of that mess, it’s going to make a huge difference!

10 thoughts on “Hoarding And Purging

  1. Great post. I understand about those letters and cards. I have not been able to throw any of mine into the trash. I will save that task for my children to do. It is sort of like leaving homework for them to do.

  2. I’m at that time in my life where I’m purging. I feel suffocated with stuff and it’s very freeing to empty out a closet or cabinet here or there. But there’s those items that really tug at your heartstrings and it’s tough to decide what to do with them. I usually keep them and figure I’ll deal with it in the next purge.

  3. What’s really fun is trying to decide what family memorabila from your parents to keep. My dad’s retirement hobby was geneology. I got his file cabinets because no one else wanted them. I’m not really (at least right now) into geneology and my dad was into collecting not stories so I have file folders full of stuff on people who, without digging deeper, I can’t tell you how we are related. These are people I will never meet and who, if I did, probably wouldn’t know anyone I know. The file cabinets are in my garage and I don’t need them for anything else so I probably won’t pitch them. There was some other stuff I thought about getting but my brother threw it away first, and like I told him, if it really was that important to me, I would have grabbed it a long time ago. I don’t consider myself to be a pack rat and I do clean out closets and boxes periodically but some stuff is hard to let go even if I don’t really want it.

  4. Kayla @ KonMariandMe

    Going through memorabilia is so hard. I have a hopechest stuffed full of journals, letters, pictures, etc. That I just can’t bring myself to open yet. Part of it is recognizing that the person I was is no longer the person I am, and that the person I am is not the person I expected to become. That’s life I suppose, but it’s so hard to accept that and move on. Then there’s the idea that it *was* important to me then, shouldn’t it still be important to me now?? It’s just too much for me right now, maybe later.

    So good for you for going through all of that! You’re right, if even one third of the weight is lifted, that will make a big difference, both physically and emotionally.

  5. Katrina

    That’s why the book “The Art of Tidying” (all the rave now, though the book has been around for a while) recommends that you do memorabilia last. Work up to it and purge things in a order. I just started using this method and donated 6 garbage bags full of clothes, shoes and accessories yesterday. It was SO FREEING to not be bogged down by all those extra clothes that are tired or just not me anymore. Now I can’t wait to do papers, though books are next and I expect those to be harder. Basically, by the end of the process you will have gone through everything you own and keep only the things that give you joy.

    • We don’t have enough stuff to purge much, really…most people have garage sales but we don’t have enough to justify one…and we use everything until nobody’d want it anymore, anyway. 🙂 I freecycle anything we think is remotely usable.

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