Malcolm McDowell Woods
Baloney on Wry

We’ve sprung a leak

By - May 22nd, 2010 04:00 am
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Kathi Gardner

I’ve never been a big fan of spring cleaning. When both Jay and I were working full time, we considered it an accomplishment of great magnitude if the weekly vacuuming, bathroom spruce-up and laundry were done.

If I had any energy to spare, the kitchen floor would get mopped, and I preferred to deal with dusting by simply avoiding the rooms with the worst accumulation. I confess that purging the refrigerator was never high on my list, either, although Jay’s claim that he once found what appeared to be remnants from the Last Supper is a gross exaggeration.

Both of us were raised in households where the Great Depression was still a vivid memory. Life was about frugality and making do, and in our neighborhood, it was the rule rather than the exception. I played dress-up in clothes that once belonged to my great-grandmother and slept in a bed with metal springs that had held several generations before me, and Jay’s family was raised on a farm in similar circumstances. Consequently “we might need that someday, so just put it in the basement” became our own mantra for decades. However, when you reach a certain age (in my case, the late 40s), you begin to realize that the basement is full of “someday” stuff that neither you, nor the generations that follow you, will ever use.

Having a basement is, in itself, a dangerous thing. Friends and family who are burdened with extraneous stuff and who know what a soft touch you are, will invariably ask if you could just put this in your basement for “a while,” meaning “until I get a much larger place sometime in the distant future,” “until I move away and leave no forwarding address,” or “until it has affixed to it the dust of countless ages and you have forgotten to whom it belongs.”

There has been a bit of all of the above in our basement over the years. Finally, tired of having to step over and around unmarked boxes and several

Photo courtesy of Flickr via Orin Zebest

pieces of hideous ancient furniture (the kind produced when the term “genuine laminate” was in vogue), I convinced Jay that it was time to downsize. Three days of our summer vacation that year were spent on trips to Goodwill and the city dump. This does not mean that our basement is now empty — it simply means that there is more room for our own extraneous stuff. It has been four years now, and fortunately no one has yet called to inquire if we remember those boxes they left with us eons ago, so I think we’re home free.

That sentimental feeling
A combination of old-fashioned frugality and sentiment make it very difficult for me to eliminate unnecessary things from my household. When my grandmother died, she left behind a box of twenty-seven aprons sewed on her ancient treadle machine to pass the time. I couldn’t bear to see them all lost, so I parceled them out to her few remaining friends and kept two for myself and my sister as keepsakes. There are still three blue tubs of her family pictures dating back to the 1800s in our basement, and two small tables, but gradually everything else has found a new home.

The greatest deterrent for me where clutter is concerned is reality TV. Books are my first love, and I am not a particularly avid television watcher. However, programs that feature hoarders whose obsessions have bested them make me itch to get out of my chair and start tossing things, a classic example of my mother’s admonition that if you can’t be a good example then at least be a horrible warning.

After one of these nightmarish shows, I decided to empty the large closet that has become our repository for things that might not fare well in the basement. I unearthed a number of treasures including a box of ‘60s print fabrics that I must have meant to make into something someday, a dulcimer, a box of quilt patches, approximately fifty too-small T-shirts (mostly freebies with ads on the back) and a metal canteen. I was rooting through the cedar chest at the back when Jay wandered in and peered over my shoulder.

“Is that your wedding dress?” he asked. “Why do you still have that?”

“Well,” I replied in what I hoped was a sufficiently withering tone of voice, “why don’t you get a bag and then we can put my wedding dress and your old army jacket in it and we’ll just donate them?”

“Um, I have to take the dogs out,” he responded, recognizing the wisdom of retreat.

Useful or not, there are some things you just can’t let go.

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