Friday, September 18, 2009

The detritus of our lives

My den has become home to a family of four kittens being fattened up for adoption. Our local shelter can't adopt them out until they're big enough to be neutered, which isn't until they're around ten weeks old. In the mean time they need the cages space for all the cats that can be adopted, so they've asked foster families to take on kittens for awhile.

Kittens are frisky. Kittens have sharp claws. And they can't be allowed out into the rest of the house, so my den door is always closed. I am somewhat allergic to cats, and my den gets stuffy without proper ventilation. In short, I have been unable to use my den much.

This weekend we came up with a solution. The den is becoming my wife's sewing room, and I'm moving my desk and stuff up to our bedroom where her sewing stuff was. It should be an easy swap, right?

Except my desk won't fit in our bedroom. It's a corner desk, and won't fit in any corner of the house except the one it was in. So out it goes, and in the mean time I've built a new desk from an old closet door, a bookcase, and a filing cabinet. It's actually quite nice. I have more desk space than I've ever had before.

The trouble is finding places for all the stuff that used to go in the old desk and bookcase. I never realized just how much stuff had built up there in the four years since we moved in. All of that stuff no longer has a place, but dearly needs one.

Much of it is not simple-to-place stuff. We're talking about old keys I'm not sure what they go to. Or old cassette tapes that I'm not sure what is on them. Or that container of change from the yard sale. Two undeveloped rolls of film. Where do they go?

To find out could require a significant amount of time. I'd have to try every lock in the house to figure out what to do with the keys. I'd have to find one of the few working cassette players to try the tape on. I'd have to find my wife and have a non-trivial discussion on where the change can goes. Okay, the Chuck E. Cheese token can go in the trash. There, one piece of clutter gone.

It's like a bomb went off in a thrift store, and I'm sifting through the rubble trying to reconstruct both the bomb and the store. We accumulate so many things in our lives that have significance only in where they came from. I have dozens of little knickknacks given to me by my children or by flummoxed family. I love them, because I love the people who gave them to me.

And I can never get rid of them, especially anything given to me by my kids. Every single crayon scribble on paper must remain a cherished keepsake until at least a few years have passed to where even they don't remember it anymore. Then you quietly slip it into the trash and hope this is not the day they decided to go through Daddy's garbage can.

The bulk of my writing has ground to a halt this week. The task of sorting, sifting, and placing has gone on much longer than expected. Not all of it has been drudgery. I came across several manila envelopes full of old pictures my mom sent me. There are numerous mementos of ten years of marriage; paperwork for cars long dead, loans paid off, or education completed. It's a fossil record marking the passage of life and the evolution of souls.

Some of it gets thrown away at long last, though you can almost hear the grief-stricken wail of the abandoned artifact, unable to comprehend why it, and not the receipt for the microwave, is being tossed aside. Such is the burden of a sentimental person. Everything has meaning. Everything represents a lifetime of memories, and to dispose of the object somehow diminishes the memory. Isn't my daughter's first gymnastics lesson just as important as the last car payment? They both left behind receipts. Where do you draw the line?

It seems easier just to hoard and hoard every little artifact until desperation forces your hand. You simply have to reclaim more space, so this time it's the manual for the old refrigerator that gets it, along with the receipt for when you got your wedding rings re-sized. Another memory dies, gasping its final death rattle.

It's not good to live too much in the past, but it's still good to visit now and then. It's good to measure growth, to reconnect with things now taken for granted.

My in-laws are in the process of moving to a smaller place from the townhouse where they lived for over thirty years. I do not envy them the task of deciding which bits of memory are worth saving. A lot of memories will be taking their last breaths.

Where do you draw the line?

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