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We’re all inclined to stash: the catch-all drawer in the study; the jammed shelves in the front hall closet; the rusting bikes and tools in the garage; the dusky trunks in the attic; the bulging sacks in the basement; the faded shed in the backyard; the discolored boxes stashed in the annex; the stacks of recipes from House and Garden magazines bundled in the kitchen cupboards.

What compels us to hoard stuff we think we’ll use someday, especially when that “someday” rarely arrives?

A similar clutter can also occur in our psyches vacuuming social media for titillation, engorging the latest scandal from The Hill or undigested trivia, staring down our neighbor’s excesses—even Broadway productions of festering resentments.

And then we wonder why we seek medical or psychiatric attention: pills to fix us, an injection to mellow us, or even surgery to cut out the disorder.

Can it be about mindlessness?

There is a response to this disorder offered by a wise friend: “If in doubt, out!”



Last week a for-sale sign appeared on the sloping front yard of a brick bungalow, its overgrown hedges creeping above the windowsills. Next to the driveway stood a seven-foot-tall holly tree that gleamed beneath the warming sun. Cicadas droned.

In late August guys with 1-800-Got-Junk emptied the bungalow of its 1950s style furniture, trash bags, and so much more. The opened front door seemed to gasp. Blinds covered every window.

During walks on this street, I had spotted this white-haired owner sunning on her front porch, her cane perched next to her. We smiled. Other times, a younger woman guided her steps toward her waiting car, parked on the street. Neighbors took care of her grass, cleared snow from her sidewalk, and helped with groceries.

Her empty bungalow, like countless others, built in Brentwood as starter-homes for veterans returning from World War II, moved me. Did she pass on or was she placed in a nursing home? Whatever, she had let go of her textured life among us and took her history with her. Others, perhaps with toddlers, will create a home in her bungalow.

Such stories prod me to keep my stuff in good order, mindful of those who will clean up after me.



A two-foot blonde doll with searching blue eyes, a blue Gymnic ball, baby’s first book, a hoopskirt with a purple butterfly, a scuffed CD player, coloring books, a Pink Princess mirror, used stuffed animals, board games with cracked edges, a shredder, laundry baskets filled with bulging sacks, a pink plastic phone without its receiver, and so much more.

A frigid morning last week, strong-hearted John lugged this stuff to my finished basement, the final task before showing the home he shares with my niece and their five children. With a contract upon another house, they hope for a quick sell.

Unaccustomed to clutter, I slowly took in those piles during basement walks (it being too cold outdoors) and discovered a world of stories: Nolan’s first Mummy’s Day gift – a pot with flowering acrylics, a photo board of smiling tykes, an old easel with paint smudges, a Zoo House with multiple tasks for gummy fingers. With each walk, more stories of subtle messing around emerged, the substance of their family life. From it all came 24/7 nurturing supporting incremental changes.

However one story, I discovered, continues touching me. Stuck in one of the laundry baskets was a long stemmed white satin rose, with a discolored card affixed by a white ribbon. On it, was printed: Name of Mother, with my niece’s name filled in, and the expected due date, July 2, 2006. At the bottom of the card, was typed, “Following the birth of your baby, please feel free to take this rose home. May God bless you and your baby.”

But the birth was unfortunate. Still in the delivery room, my niece held her brain-damaged daughter in her arms and tearfully named her Finley, a name meaning courage. A comely eight-year old with a wide smile, she continues teaching us.





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