When I lived in New York City, hoarding was never an issue. I lived in a 500-square-foot apartment with my husband and two kids, and I want to tell you that it was really small, but for an apartment in a coveted school district New York City, it’s not that small. We had a rule that if you bring something into the apartment, you throw something out.
To give you an idea of how wide ranging the impact of lack of space is, when we moved to Wisconsin, my son said one night, “It’s so fun to have a bed. Thank you so much. I love Wisconsin!” Neither kid had a bed in NYC. In fact, if you want to know why so many babies in poor families die it’s probably because they don’t have a bed. My son slept on a pillow on the floor next to me for six months. And one night I woke up and he was gone. He had rolled over twice.
But I digress.
A lot about living in NYC has stayed with me. I live on a farm now, where there is unlimited storage. People buy little buildings for about $200 and then they store more stuff in them. Unlimited space for buildings! Unlimited storage! No monthly fees!
I am disgusted by this. It reeks of hoarding to me. So I am still a stickler about throwing stuff out. Probably to a fault.
When the kids lose something, before they embark on a search they ask me if I’ve thrown it out.
I have felt guilty having to answer yes, so now I have a secret area where I put things that I think I could throw out without them noticing. But if they ask for it over the course of a few weeks then I can just pull it out of my stash.
Recently, I went through the stuff that I saved for sentimental reasons. I saved clothes that I remember the boys wearing all the time. I saved their favorite stuffed animals. It’s a lot. And I’m not even half way done.
My mom, for the last fifteen years, has been trying to give me and my brothers the stuff she saved. We joke about how she gives us toys with mold and lead paint. But now I have more empathy for her. It’s hard to throw stuff out that reminds me of good times with the kids.
So I have a new idea. I took pictures. There’s stuff that simply will not last—not last long enough for me to give to my grown up kids so their wives can throw it out. So I started taking pictures.
You know what that picture is up top? It’s my son’s first violin. He was three. It takes a toddler about six months to learn to hold a violin properly on the shoulder. They start with a kleenex box and a handle from a duster. The real violin is the reward for six months of hard work. I saved the pretend violin all this time. But today, I took a picture and threw it out.
It’s hard to do, but the process is a great way to remind myself that the day to day moments that are so difficult—like trying to get a three-year-old to hold a violin—are also cherished memories and I’m so lucky to have so many of them every day.