Monday, September 10, 2012
All this week I'll be sharing the "treasure" I liberated from my parents' storage units while visiting the homestead in NJ last month. Dedicated readers of this blog and people who actually know me (mostly one and the same) are acquainted with my family's pack-rat tendencies—we choose to avoid the term "hoarder," which has too many negative associations thanks to that show I've never watched even though all 500 episodes are idling in my Netflix queue. Netflix is a kind of socially sanctioned hoarding, don't you think?
Anyway. To catch up on the backstory, read this post. In a nutshell, my mother is an antiques dealer who's been accumulating stuff—both inventory and not inventory—for many decades. My brother and I grew up on the flea market/garage sale/antique show circuit so the thrill of the hunt was inculcated in us at a tender age. As a result, we both have a lot of stuff, though a run-in with bedbugs forced him to do some impressive downsizing in recent years. I'd call him a minimalist if it weren't for the way he stubbornly clings to his CDs. Also, pulling off the hat trick that is minimalism is easier when you've got your parents' storage units to house the overflow.
Over the years, my parents have managed to keep the local ministorage facilities in business; depending on whom you're talking to, they're renting a half dozen or significantly fewer storage units. When my father retired a few years back, he made emptying and consolidating those units his raison d'etre (well, along with eating jelly doughnuts, driving to appointments, running races and singlehandedly supporting the New York Times by paying full newsstand price for it every single day—who does that?).
Important lessons are learned when you're in your 70s and still running 5Ks, like slow and steady might just win you your age group. My dad may be proceeding at a glacial pace, but I'm pleased to report he has made some headway. On the first day of our August visit, my parents took me and the kids on a field trip to the storage facilities. At first, the kids were not excited. "Is this an estate sale?" my five-year-old asked suspiciously as my dad rolled up the metal door. "Cuz if it is, I'm not getting out of the car!" Eventually, both girls were won over by the sight of old toys and the smell of old books.
Things were so much tidier than the last time I'd visited that I was actually able to find The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, a book for which I'd been pining for, like, forever. Of course I'd managed to score two other copies at sales while pining but they aren't the same—my copy has a dustjacket! And my copy, well, it's MY copy, the one I used to take into bed with me on weekend mornings and sing "The Foggy Foggy Dew" and "John Henry" till my parents finally got up and made me breakfast.
Then I saw this Lynyrd Skynrd boxy mobile thing, a promotional item sent by the record label to Country Pie, the record store I used to work at. Do I need it? No. Do I even like Lynyrd Skynrd anymore? In theory, a little, but not in practice. Is this thing worth money? Maybe—I haven't gotten around to checking. But I did snap its picture.
I also found my roller skates! I cooed over them, regaled my indifferent children with tales of my roller-disco days, instagrammed them and returned them to the storage unit. Take them? What would I do with them? They don't fit my kids yet. And they'd be so expensive to ship. But get rid of them? My skates?! Mon dieu! How could I?
Whenever I'm back in NJ, I tend to fret over the contents of these storage units (and the basement and the attic). I hate to see money being thrown away on the rent; I shudder to imagine my brother and I having to finish the job of sifting though all this stuff at some far away future moment. But here I was, part of the problem and definitely not the solution. I decided I had to start doing my part and not just talk the talk.
Baby steps. First, I took my Gamma World game, because my five-year-old daughter, who is a total gamester, was begging me for it. I think she's got a few years before she grasps the whole role-playing TSR concept (god knows I never did), but surely we can make room in the game closet.
I also nabbed these books, though I have sentimental attachment to neither. Can't resist a book about birds or a book about streakers. Just doin' my part.
And finally, I took a large plastic bin–the kind that holds years worth of tax documents–because there was a Post-it on the lid that read "Gillian wants this." Post-its never lie, right? I recognized it for what it was: another Pandora's box. Eight summers ago, when I was making the move from NYC to Texas, I spent a couple weeks in limbo at my parents' house. They seized the opportunity to make me sort through the warehouse of ephemera they'd been amassed: scrapbooks, letters, notes, photos, yearbooks, Playbills, posters, tchotchkes, art projects, report cards, travel brochures, ticket stubs, old phone bills (yes, old phone bills). Should there ever be a museum dedicated to my life (something I fully expected to have happened by now), the curator will have a lot to work with.
I spent days out on the screened porch, inhaling clouds of dust and molder, bagging up childhood detritus. Some of it was easy (phone bills); some of it not so much (I really was good at drawing horses!). I didn't have any trouble tossing years of elementary school homework, the heady scent of ditto still clinging to the pages, but I couldn't quite part with my college notebooks and papers (hey, it's never too late to go to grad school). I narrowed and edited and condensed and consolidated to a few containers, which I wasn't ready to take with me and I wasn't ready to take to the dump. My parents generously agreed to keep those boxes, and so here they were again. It was time to cull. I was as ruthless as I'm capable of being (i.e., not too ruthless). I got rid of the obvious trash that I must've been too overwhelmed to deal with last time, and then packed up everything else in small amazon boxes. They arrived in San Antonio a few days after I did. I'll share the pics this week.
In the meantime, where to put the stuff? Right now I have two enormous closets where I keep this sort of thing, but the closets do double and triple-duty—they're also filled with holiday decorations and Lindsay's guitars. With another child now in school and generating all kinds of adorable ephemera, those closets won't be big enough. Texas houses don't have basements, and our house doesn't have an attic. I will have to learn to be less nostalgic, less inclined to sentimentalize objects and scraps of paper, because storage unit rentals are not in my budget.