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Cleaning Thoughts On All The Stuff—Where Past Meets Present Meets Future

10302745_10152280145048387_2901251374802006728_nI’m guessing that the birthday party Saskia attended in the fall, a trip to the local Build-a-Bear workshop, was a once in a lifetime experience for her. A small group of her pal’s besties got to go there, and they had a fantastic time (I stand in awe of his moms for both idea and follow through, by the way). I had never taken her to the mall. In fact, I had no idea Build-a-Bear existed around here. Her big white bear is sweet and loved. The house-slash-cardboard box her big white bear travelled “home” in and spent two days in the dining room, a few more in the playroom and the winter in the front hallway. I sent the box-slash-house to the recycling, because it’s spring, and because there was another empty box in the front hallway, and because I have declared this goal: a less cluttered house.

Saskia ended up in the barn before the day the recycling and trash get picked up. The box has returned into the house, just as far as the mudroom. While she’s in school today—recycling and trash pickup day—the box will disappear.

Odds are, she won’t ask about the house. Odds are, if she does ask, and I can’t “find” it she will cry. Odds are if I kept the box, er, bear’s house, she’d never actually play with it again. Sometimes, in the name of a clearer house, darlings have to go—and not only hers.

We hosted a graduation party for two beloved friends and babysitters over the weekend, and because we live in a little city that boasts just about the best ice cream on the planet, we served ice cream. I pulled our two ice cream scoops from the kitchen drawer. One of the moms brought a couple more ice cream scoops along. My husband sought a particular ice cream scoop. He asked after it. It was one of the two ice cream scoops I’d tossed during operation-make-the-kitchen-drawers-shut.

I used my mom gesture, the shrug. He used his annoyed-gesture, the hands on hips. We stood there, deadlocked.

“I can get another of that particular scoop,” I told him. “That’s a holiday gift waiting to happen.” While I’d saved a couple of baby bibs for visitors, the last remaining pile of them disappeared. “I also tossed extraneous cheese graters, including a broken one, big spoons no one uses, and frayed dishtowels,” I reported.

“Did you throw out any favorite dishtowels?” he asked, anxiously.

“I threw out the ones that are so holey as to be non-functional,” I replied. I pulled the drawer open. “You’ll see we still have dishtowels.”

He lowered his hands from his hips and scooped ice cream with the inferior scoops. The party was lovely. We had plenty of dishtowels for post-party cleanup. The big white bear watched over everything (okay, it didn’t; it’s somewhere, but you get the idea here; it could have watched over everything because I didn’t toss it out).

Additionally, last week I went through a few large boxes of kids’ art. I tossed old homework sheets scattered in the pile and most of the art. I took not very good photographs of some—and made a good-sized pile for the flat files in my husband’s office at his behest. I was glad not to toss absolutely everything. It is nice to know the “darlings” are safe.

For the box to go, though, was the most helpful. I want to free up enough space in the house to reinvent rooms. I imagine the playroom’s eventual shift from play space to homework and hangout space and possibly guest room, too. I hope to leave fewer dust traps about, especially given that three out of six family members have asthma.

But there’s longer term thinking at work, too. Eventually, we might leave this house—and I don’t want every piece of kids’ art or every book read or unread during their childhoods to wait for me to sort through then. I won’t necessarily remember the important ones. This won’t happen for a long time; the kids are 18, 16, 11 and 6.

If we head to a smaller dwelling someday, I certainly won’t be able to keep everything in this big house. I don’t want my kids to have to upend themselves from whatever they are doing to sort through all that childhood stuff (assuming they’d be willing to do so). I remember how much work it took for my mother’s parents to leave the house where they resided for four decades (and how much of my aunt’s time went into that move).

I can’t know what we’ll do or even whether we will move someday in a future I can’t imagine yet. I don’t know whether any of our three sets of parents will move—or how we’ll deal with all of their stuff, the precious and the excess, a word for which you can exchange to mean Build-a-Bear box. All I do know is that I’ve spent many hours and days (with great help I’ve paid for and key spousal assists) to get stuff out of our house, the precious and the metaphoric Build-a-Bear boxes, the good and bad ice cream scoops. My reward is a house that’s begun to breathe again. I hope there’s a reward for the someday grown kids, too.

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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