Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Is there a 12-step program for people who watch the cable television
program Hoarders? On a mountain weekend recently, I had unlimited
access to cable TV. Since I don't have cable television at home,
having access is like dabbling in a gateway drug. Watching Hoarders
is like watching a train wreck. You feel bad about staring, but you
can't pull your eyes away.
After spending every inside moment for three days watching people
climb over their possessions and attempting to make dinner in their
maggot-infested kitchens, I decided that I had to start getting rid of
I'm not a hoarder. I just don't like to part with things I might use
some day. For instance, if I'm ever asked to bring a Jell-O mold to a
potluck, I have at least six copper molds in different sizes and
shapes. I also have a glass, fish-shaped mold in case Salmon Mousse is
requested. When was the last time I molded lime gelatin mixed with
pineapple and whipped topping into a ring the size of the equator?
Maybe 20 years ago.
The hardest things for me to send on their way are books. Books are
like friends. Lots of books on my shelves make me feel substantial.
But, after watching the hoarders, I yearned for empty space. In one
fell swoop, I packed up 100 books. The public library would only take
two boxes, so I divvied up and schlepped six boxes to three different
branches. Amazingly, I haven't missed any of the books. Yet.
Next to go are clothes. How many t-shirts do I need? Are there
guidelines somewhere? Do I even own two socks that match? The outfit
I wore to my son's wedding 15 years ago won't zip. But, it's so
pretty. And, then there's the really sentimental stuff. My first prom
dress. My mother-in-law's wedding dress from 1934. My sweater sets
that have labels sown in that say, "Karen Ross." And, how can I get
rid of an earring whose mate might show up. That sounds downright
Getting rid of stuff is not only hard physically, it's hard
emotionally. If I give away the Jell-O molds, that closes a chapter on
my life. That chapter was titled, "Fancy Dinner Parties Using The Good
Dishes, Polished Silver and Requiring a Multi-tiered Jell-O Mold. "
Each book on my shelf marks a time in my life or an interest I was
passionate about. Even though I've had many losses over the years, at
least I still have my stuff. Will I lose part of how I define myself
if I downsize?
At a recent religious service, the rabbi spoke of having to clean out
his father-in-law's home after the elderly man passed away. Apparently
his father-in-law thought that boxes full of old National Geographics
would be a wonderful legacy for his family. The gist of the sermon's
message was that what you want to leave as your legacy is not your
stuff, but your values. What are the life lessons that you want your
family to store in their hearts instead of in their garages?
My children have already inherited my values, talents, virtues and
lemon bar recipe. I guess that means I can pack up most everything I'm
not currently using and sell it or give it away. Well, maybe I'll
keep one Jell-O mold. And, the prom dress. And, a couple pieces of my
children's artwork. And, the cookbook with my mother-in-law's
handwritten notes on every page. And, my parents' wedding picture.
And, the t-shirt with doggies on it.
Uh oh! I better get myself to that 12-step meeting pronto. Memo to my
children: You've already received all you need from me. If you want a
copper Jell-O mold though, speak up now.
Karen Susman speaks internationally and coaches individuals and groups on communication skills. She's known for her content and humor. Contact Karen at 303-756-6939 or email@example.com
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