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Just In Case

You know how when you move into a larger house, and at first it seems like you have so much space, and then suddenly every last nook and cranny is filled?

Imagine if you had a barn…

My sister and I finally did what we’d been threatening to do this past weekend: we went up and started to clean out our parents’ barn. My parents have five kids, and for a while there the grandkids were coming fast and furious. But now most of us are finished, and we have an amazing accumulation of stuff up at the top level of the barn. For years we’ve all been putting our cast-off kid-stuff up there “just in case” someone else needs it. Now it’s all coming down!

We did the clothing first. I didn’t count how many boxes we ended up with, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was over 20. We only did birth through 3T, but the stack is quite impressive. We sorted it into sizes, and then split it between donation only and sellable stuff.

That took the better part of two days. Then we went back up and started to push things around so we could see what was being kept and what still needed to be sorted through.

That’s when things got a little demoralizing. There was our little pile at the back of the loft: about six boxes of post-3T clothing, a few boxes of sentimental stuff (my niece’s toy piano; my kids’ block collection; a box with various and sundry that included, upon inspection, trophies from road races I won in high school). Two black seachests that one or the other of us dragged off to college.

And at the other end of the loft? Car seats, bouncy chairs, three Baby Bjorns, two strollers, and boxes and boxes of toys. Also into the pile we pushed all the broken luggage that had been put up there, to be fixed “someday.” I snagged a box with my nephew’s old knight suit for my daughter, who has been into knights and castles lately.

We sat down in the dust, my sister asked her husband what time it was, and we decided it was definitely time for a glass of wine.

The accumulations of six families — parents and their five kids — is like a roadmap for modern American overconsumption. And I’d judge our family to be on the low end of consumption. When I drive down the highway and see all those storage units, I just wonder at that. Why do we have all this stuff? Shouldn’t we be giving it to people who actually will use it?

I’m not talking about the sentimental stuff. I’ve always kept little tokens to remind me of my past life, and since we’ve had kids we have more and more of those tokens.

But what about all the impersonal stuff that we are sure we’re going to use…someday? We, a family that hardly watches TV, have two small extra TVs that we keep. I actually did find a use for one of them during a concert last year where the organist couldn’t see the conductor. We set up the TV as a monitor and hitched it to our old video camera (which we’re keeping Just In Case we need to view the tapes that we’ve already dubbed to DVD). So, OK, perhaps we could get rid of one of the old TVs, but then…

What else? My sister asked, why do we still have that tricycle in the barn? The idea was that the kids would use it when they’re there, but they never do. Until she said that. Minutes later a child casually wandered in, saw the tricycle he sees every time he visits his grandparents, got on, and went out for a ride. He and another cousin were playing happily long after that as we sat there and realized that there’s more to getting rid of junk than you might think.

Just In Case is woven into the way we see things. We might be entering the next Great Depression right now, but we haven’t quite gotten over the last one. Our culture is a clash between the modern impermanence of our cheaply made Chinese junk and our inherited fear of not having Things. Most of the clothing that we sorted through was either not practical, stained, or duplicated many times over. The “sellable” items that we sorted out were only about 30% of the total. Yet we kept it, Just In Case.

I go through our closets to cull things and find that afterward the closet may be neater, but it’s just as full. I keep trying to throw things out and failing. What if I need that rag with a faded picture of Ronald Reagan on it someday? What if the organist can’t see the conductor?

Just In Case, I’m keeping all these blogs I’m writing. They get saved on my disk and duly backed up by Time Machine. Just In Case…what? You never know when you might need a trip down memory lane…

Posted in Parenting.

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