Friday, May 6, 2011

Thoughts on going though clutter (aka "memorabilia")

cardboard file boxes with clutter sorting


The post "Holding on to Sentimental Things" on Small Notebook inspired me. I had two large storage tubs of wedding, college, and high school memorabilia, plus an extra box just for kicks.

The above post shares a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the grandmother brings out her box of treasured memories. Not quite the same sentiment, Rachel points out, if the grandmother had instead opened up her storage facility, crammed floor to ceiling with the detritus of her life.

"When it comes to keeping sentimental things:
the fewer things you keep, the more special they are."

It's complicated to explain, but basically our living space over the span of our marriage has gone from livable, to unlivable, to livable, to unlivable again, generally based on the amount of inventory we have going through because of our business.

It is currently in the throes of unlivable, the living room/dining room area overrun with large boxes of DVDs that that poor UPS guy drops off day after day. The second bedroom, which we we had hoped to prepare as a, gee, second bedroom, is stuffed.

We have a birth coming up this month (deep breath, deep breath), and our bedroom, which I hope will be our peaceful birthing space, and our downstairs, which I hope will roomily enough contain our midwives and my sister-in-law and Mikko as they wait, are nowhere near an acceptable state for the birth.

We threw around some ideas: Do we open a storage unit for the business boxes? But Sam would then have to travel there daily to carry boxes to and fro and pack up what we need to send out. Do we rent an office space where he could do the same in more comfort? But more comfort means more expense, and that's not the best choice as we enter a period of not working as much for the summer. Do we rent storage for our actual storage, so the business boxes can move into that space instead?

Or — well — do we add paring our storage down, majorly, to our list of pre-baby tasks? And most of the storage — sigh — is mine.

I am trying. I hate it. But I am trying.

I'm keeping in mind the shoebox. Sam even found one for me, and handed it over. I'm allowed, max, one shoebox per event: high school, college, wedding. I have in mind a time when Mikko will sit with me and go through it — or maybe, sit without me and go through it. I want everything that remains to be something interesting, preferably self-explanatory, and possibly symbolic for something larger. I don't need to save every college paper — maybe just one that sums up those days for me.

Here's what I've learned going through my college box:

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I lived through the dark days of email and the internet. Friends were pleasantly surprised for me when setting up my school email account took less than a week (woot!). Other friends had their emails cut off because the phone line went down (or a roommate picked up the extension and cut the connection), or couldn't get on email for several days because the dial-up was continually busy. Ah…

On the bright side, back then email forwards were fresh.

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My ex-boyfriend was an ass.* He kept emailing me about farts. What was that about? Also, I didn't really need to relive the part where we decided to date other people while I was at college (this was my my mom's idea), but he, a 21-year-old, took that to mean hooking up with my pastor's 16-year-old daughter. What the holy heck. Although I guess I should have been forewarned that someone who writes so much about farts wasn't the pinnacle of maturity.

*To be fair, I'm cringing from who I was back then as well.

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Not joking about the dark ages of email. Here are my instructions for how to download my email:
Log on to DAVE with Kermit. From the ----.edu> prompt type "CD Mail." Type "LS" to view available Mail folders. Type "Kermit." From the C-Kermit7 prompt, type "server." Oh, my gosh, I'm too bored to keep typing it. It's a page long.

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I wonder if my roommate still makes little circles for the dots on her Is.

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It's funny how I can read compliments on my schoolwork and remember all the reasons I didn't deserve them. Like how the junior high teacher observing my practicum in her classroom said that my comfort level with big groups would grow with experience and the students responded well to me — I can remember how painfully awkward I felt in her classroom and how I was sure I would make a terrible teacher. So sure, in fact, that I dropped out of the education certification track after that. (I hadn't really wanted to be in it, anyway, just was hedging my job-search bets since I was an English major.) Or how my college algebra teacher said I could manage a higher level of math easily — oh, I knew that. That's why I'd taken college algebra. So I could read magazines during class while fulfilling my gen-ed credit. My final project, which earned an A, was completed after the library closed and I'd had to search my room for a suitable set of data from which to make a graph; I found a list of Pulitzer Prize winners by year in the back of one of my English books and was set.

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My mom used to send me envelopes stuffed full of Dave Barry columns and Dilbert cartoons.

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My little brother (9 years old when I left for college) was hilarious.

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Good thing I saved that Mr. Magoo ticket stub. Would hate to have forgotten that film.

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You know what ruined my perfect 4.0 GPA the second semester of my junior year? Was it sociology, twentieth century German literature, environmental science, or Christian thought (a theology class)? Oh, no. It was tennis. Stinking tennis.

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I'm shocked — shocked — that I didn't realize earlier that the guy I thought was "just a good friend" liked me, until he pressed his attentions more fully upon me and I had to shut him down — twice. He apparently sent me, like, a letter per week (actually — wait for it — an X-Men Valentine's card) to my college post office box (with lines like "Is it weird my tongue has touched this?" and — hello! — "I've come to realize I am drawn to you."). How did I not put the clues together? I must really have a skewed sense of my own attractions. I am a man* magnet, my friends. A clueless one.

*Yes, man, singular.

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I used to work at Sears. One week, I worked 37.3 hours, and my take home pay was $157.74. That's a net of a little over $4 an hour.

This is one of the reasons I was always surprised when someone over 25 was still working retail. The other reason was how very much I hated working retail.

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Bill Clinton sent a signed photo to Sam when he graduated. I'm going to assume it was his dad who instigated such a thing. This honor would be complete if the photo included the message "To a great fan."

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Remember floppy disks? I do. I remember them back when they were even floppy and was very confused that the stiff ones were so named as well.

I don't suppose I have anything that can read floppy disks anymore. Goodbye, then.

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I was forever losing writing contests. Good thing I didn't take it to heart. (Right? Is it?)

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Wes Craven went to my college and wrote for the literary journal. I found his stories and poems when I was the editor and went through the old archives.

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Seeing my German essays marked up beyond belief is horrifying. I think that's what stops me from speaking German to people. I see red pen descending on every sentence I utter, telling me I used the wrong article and wrong verb choice and that I have no idea what the word I chose really means. Is there a way to get red-pen fears out of your mind? Or to aim for a 70% accuracy instead of a perfect score?

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On a sociology paper, I received this comment from my professor: "Glad to see use of the internet." I had to think about that to figure out if it was sarcastic. No, as I said, this was back in the old days — apparently, I was, like, a pioneer to consult the internet for a resource.

That same professor wrote on a different paper: "This is a superb paper. I would like to visit further with you. Can we get together?" Only because I remember what a sweetheart he was do I not find this creepy. (For instance, he was an older man who had had various heart problems and eventually a heart transplant, and he was always glowing with thankfulness for the donor.) I can't at all remember if we did "get together."

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Ah. Well, if my athletic prowess weren't problem enough, here are the notes I wrote while crafting my tennis paper: "Yeah, right, like you're gonna work on this while you're watching your movie. Wise up."

Maybe that explains the B+ for the semester.

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Another professor used to write "dizzy" in the margins of my papers. "Dizzy"? Was it my rapid-fire intellect?

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Good thing I saved the student phone directory from 1995. Never know when it might next come in handy.

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I used to write a weekly humor column for the student newspaper about the traffic stops known as bollards. It was pretty surreal, but I like to think it was the highlight of the newspaper for many. (I definitely like to think this.) It was popular enough that people would mail in pictures to us of bollards in places around the world. How did I achieve this illustrious staff position? Did I mention my boyfriend* was the editor?

*That would be Sam. Aw.

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Mikko's really cute when he sings "Skip to My Lou." That's not from a box. That's from the real-life return of my boys. Guess my sorting time is over for now.

I have three piles: one trash (recycling) pile, one for sure to keep, and one to go through one last time and choose among. The trash pile is at least 90% of the box. The for-sure-to-keep pile is one thing. One.

Too bad it's only one box, and only one year of college, but still – a good start.

What life lessons have you learned going through your garbage?

12 comments:

Tmuffin said...

You are totally nesting :) I used to keep everything. Old papers, shoeboxes full of gossipy notes from 8th grade, random little trinkets I won at Chuck E Cheese's, etc. It's all in my parents' attic. I will probably never go through it. Now, I'm the opposite. I even throw out birthday cards. (I recently was yelled at by my DH for that one. Oops.) I vacillate between realizing I will never look at some of these things again and the best memories are stored in my brain, and then realizing that one day my brain won't be work very much and I'll wish I had all the memorabilia to look back on. But I feel like there are pieces of me everywhere. I give fun little cards and crafty things to so many people, I kind of rely on them to save the memorabilia for me. I figure one day, when I'm gone, someone can follow the tracks and piece me back together.

Becky said...

Good for you for going through all your papers! I'm in the exact same boat with all my boxes and boxes of papers and so-called memorabilia. I'll be moving this year, so I hope to go through these things, but I haven't gotten around it before. Yikes, I have all my college essays on floppy disks too, and I'm younger than you. I am a tech dinosaur. I also need to adopt that attitude of "Goodbye, then." I like the goal of having a shoebox of sentimental trinkets that represent that period time of my life. My husband just threatens to throw it all away since I'm obviously not using or looking at all my papers (and stuff) anyway. I hope he's not that cruel, so far he's just talk. Good luck decluttering!

teresa said...

this great post is almost all you need to remember all this stuff!
I'm in the same process... no baby coming any second, but we have to move like NOW, so....
I'm in it with you sister!
Good luck and I love your observations.

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

I happened to move overseas directly after graduating university and getting married (like 6 days later) and when it came to deciding what was going to come with us, cost was a major factor. An item had to be worth at least $10 per cubic foot to be worth moving, or very emotionally important. I did keep some memorabilia, but not very much. And the only thing I miss today is my university textbooks, mostly because of their usefulness as reference books. Go figure.

Cassie said...

Lol this was funny. I enjoyed reading it. But ya, you're nesting! I need to have an energy nesting boost here so I can clean out things.

Rachel said...

Your bollard column was TOTALLY the highlight of the paper -- and I can say that without fear of contradiction as someone who contributed a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears to the "serious" content that year. Good times.

(OK, maybe not blood. Definitely sweat and tears, though.)

Molly said...

I can relate! At eight+ months pregnant, my husband and I decided to tear into our basement. Nearly 20 file boxes of old high school and college memorabilia lay in wait for us (we're both hopeless pack-rats). Let me tell you, organizing and chucking the needless riff raff was one of the most freeing and satisfying things I've ever done! (My nesting instincts were pretty epic, and we still laugh about them). Tossing those old notes from astronomy class that I didn't look at then and probably wouldn't look at now if I still had them? Priceless.

I sort of had to detatch myself from the objects, only keeping things that were, like you said, symbolic and meaningful. It was hard because I can be sentimental. But once I got into it, I was all slash and burn.

Just wanted you to know you're not the only one!

I hope you get everything sorted out. Only do what you feel you have energy for! Am sending positive thoughts your way. Best wishes and blessings!

Jenny said...

Somewhere in our attic there is a box with 15+ copies each of several short stories, written by me. I took a fiction workshop and we'd distribute copies to all our class members for them to read and write comments on. It's really hard for me to get rid of these, especially the ones people liked. Someday I might read through the comments again, and edit my story (if there's one I don't absolutely hate by now) and submit it to a journal or something. So clearly I can't just throw that box out. I haven't read those in a long time, but when I do, it reminds me how silly I was in college. I wonder if in ten or so years I will look back and think how silly I am now...

I love what you say about the little box on My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That is SO true and I'd never thought of it that way!

April-Infant formula reviewer said...

I have boxes for my two children too. It's great to have. One of these days I'll go through it and give it to them.

Rachael @ The Variegated Life said...

First, Lauren, I must say that I'm impressed that you're slogging through all this stuff! In the battle between Lauren and the clutter, I say: Go Lauren! Wow!

Second, your comment on the German papers cracks me up. Of all the notes, papers, and whatever else I *might* have kept from my German classes in college, I have only two papers, written entirely! by me! in German! But, having forgotten most German that I ever learned, I cannot read them. It is truly surreal: I wrote these papers, but I cannot read them.

MomAgain@40 said...

You are definitekly a haorder! Not judging! I am too! Since we've moved into a new house with smaller spaces, I find myself hoarding more, because I don't have a place for everything, and I tend to forget of everything in the back of the cupboard... *sigh*

Funny post! :D

Finnablog said...

I know what you mean! Something that has really helped me is flylady.net

It is a free program/method all based around decluttering, organization, and cleaning but in manageable steps. The flylady is all about honoring yourself and letting go of perfectionism. It helped me and it also helped my mom get her house under control with 6 kids!

Hope you like it (-: good luck on your projects and your upcoming baby, yeah!

Carrie

Ps. The flylady website is not the most beautiful thing to look at but don't let that turn you off because it really is wonderful

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