The Reluctant Archaeologist

ancient packrat midden in cave
USGS, “Pleistocene Packrat Midden” via Wikimedia Commons

Since my return to Kansas City from my CT adventures, I have started chipping away at my biggest project yet: Cleaning up the detritus that has accumulated in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. The Stuff started gathering when I went to college; this is not just my stuff, but stuff belonging to my siblings, parents and general household items (my grandparents’ sofa, comforters in plastic zippered cases, etc.) that have found their way into the “dump” upstairs.

Since my return to the house from adulthood about 2 years ago, I have also contributed my fair amount of boxes, bags and other “containerized” forms of stuff to the general chaos. I should note that this bedroom has been completely unusable (I moved into my sister’s old bedroom) since it has been overrun with Stuff.

My philosophy has always been, if you can’t bear to get rid of it, containerize it. Of course, this just gives you a room full of containers of useless stuff. Small ‘s’ stuff, as it happens, that sits around until it matures into its adult form, Large ‘S’ Stuff.

Cleaning up the Stuff had always been a “someday” project: One that I started before I went to Adamah in 2013, and never quite got around to finishing. Until now. My parents are starting to make noises about fixing up their house (which is noticeably cavernous for only 2 people, especially if they don’t like climbing stairs) in order to make it sellable. They’ve called a realtor and various contractors for input. Dad’s even started a personal program of polishing all the dog-scratched-up woodwork with Old English.

Suddenly, Cleaning up the Stuff has become a real thing. I am the Reluctant Archaeologist tasked with sifting through the debris. I found articles clipped out of the New York Times with my late grandmother’s handwritten notes. (Miss you Grandma, but Recycle.) Birthday cards from grandma (Should recycle, but goes into Nostalgia shoebox). My notebooks from my freshling literature course (which probably have my painstaking notes on “Nostos” in the Odyssey.) How many thousands of dollars of college course credits/tuition are contained in these ragged spiral bound pages? (Not doing me a speck of good now. Recycle!) Actually, none of you are doing me any good, but why is it so hard to get rid of you?

I just finished reading the aptly titled Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by psychologists Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee. While my problem is not nearly so severe as the pathologies described in the book, the authors cite a number of salient points about how humans relate to our Stuff.

  • Possessions provide a sense of personal power – they are tools that allow us to accomplish things.
  • Possessions provide a sense of security (similar to nesting behavior in animals.)
  • Possessions become part of an individual’s sense of self and maintain identity by preserving personal history.
  • Objects also represent opportunities – that as long as you hold onto the object, you still might be able to fulfill any number of possible destinies: Make that hand sewn quilt, play soccer again, lose 15 lbs to fit into a garment, whatever. But when you get rid of the object, you close off that possibility.

I also have a terrible habit of imbuing objects with feelings. Imagining the pain of the rejected toys/appliances in “The Velveteen Rabbit” or the “The Brave Little Toaster” was pure agony for me as a kid. (I still hate both of those stories!)

I love the ideas of Upcycling and crafting with found objects, and reusing vintage kitsch not just because I’m a millenial with nostalgia issues… but because I hate the idea of throwing anything out. If I can convince myself that the object will have a useful life elsewhere, I can finally make some headway. After yesterday’s incursion into the chaos, I rescued 2 large shopping bags of clothing for donation, as well as 2 large shopping bags of books to be traded in. That triumph offset the two large bags of trash I threw out, with the two grocery bags full of recycling.

I will go to great lengths to make sure items find appropriate homes, including dry cleaning items of professional clothing to go to “Clothing Pantry” for struggling women to get work clothes. I am sorting through piles of old t-shirts to send to Project Repat out of which the company will make me a quilt! I found items that can go to Habitat ReStore and signed up for my local Freecycle chapter to give Stuff away (because maybe someone can use it? It’s free!)

The challenge will be not filling up the newly emptied space with more larval stuff, to keep the process from starting anew.


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