I was trying to get rid of stuff. STUFF. The Stuff that creeps into the house and takes hold in drawers and corners and on countertops. It hangs in closets and is tossed up on shelves out of reach but it’s not out — OUT — like it should be. It is just out of the way, out of reach, but it is still there. Still everywhere. Clutter.
I have a lot of stuff.
I’ve lived in my house for twelve years. I’ve raised kids from infants to preteens and have accumulated the stuff of each age: clothes in various sizes and seasons; toys they won’t choke on, toys they are old enough not to choke on, toys the price of which you want to choke on.
There are two American Girl dolls, half dressed with half dreaded hair and one shoe each splayed out on the floor of my daughter’s closet like millennial junkies after a bender. “Girrrl,” Kit says to Willa in my mind. “We got sooo wasted last night.” Then I imagine them scrolling through selfies and giggling about things they half remember on the iPhone they did lines on the night before.
I find a swim diaper with Nemo on it under angel wings under a towel with an elephant hoodie under forty thousand unique and masterful school art pictures that cannot be thrown out. The act of actually throwing away child art symbolizes throwing away of the actual child — to the child — so it must not be done. Ever. I learned this the hard way one afternoon the last time I tried to “tidy up” 8 years ago.
My son has a closet full of birthday presents his mother (who me?) never assembled (because I’m not that handy kind of mom) and also never regifted (because I’m not that organized mom either). It also has forty thousand soccer jerseys in every color including the seasons of which we do not speak (pink and purple).
It’s all still in closets and corners and so the “hoarder” show has not visited me yet but it’s driving me crazy. It is time for the stuff to go.
I spend several weekends donating, tossing, selling stuff. Slowly the house feels lighter and more open. I am reclaiming my own motherfucking house. That’s right! I think to myself, late at night looking at an empty closet floor.
And it’s time to move on to “my stuff.” I have stuff too. Stuff from childhood that went to college then to my first apartment, my second apartment, that married my husbands things, that became “married things” then “divorced things, but still things. So much crap, let’s be honest.
I get rid of my size four clothes. I get rid of my skiis and my college textbooks. I get rid of everything I haven’t used in the past four years. Okay fine. I get rid of my size six clothes too. Fucking middle age metabolism bullshit. I digress.
I call my cousin on the phone. I have a free weekend. I’m obsessed with purging.
“I should get rid of my crystal,” I say. “What the fuck am I doing with 6 settings of crystal anyway? And why do I have 3 full sets of china? I have summer Wedgewood bone china, Christmas china and white china with a gold rim. The last time I had a party we played Cards Against Humanity and drank bud light in cans. I don’t think I’ve ever used this crystal, ever. I should sell it.”
“Why would you sell it? Keep it.” She says. She has a business degree and she makes good decisions. She is wise. I am wild. It works.
The idea of keeping it makes me so uncomfortable. There is something in me that resists these sparkly cups. They are fragile and expensive. They suggest I am more fancy and together than I am. What if I am expected to live up to the expectations of these wine glasses that hold mere sips of wine compared to my oversized, bulbous Target wine glasses? This crystal thinks I’m a fraud!
“You’ll get nothing for it. It’s practically worthless. There is no market,” she says.
“Not even eBay?”
I imagine her calculating the net value of Waterford and Wedgewood in her business master’s degree mind. She’s calculating inflation, tax loss carryback, EBITDA.
“Not really,” she says. “Just keep it.”
“What will I even do with it?” I ask her. Doesn’t she know me? Doesn’t she know my life? Does she have the same affliction as my mother — imagining me having cocktail parties in little black dresses? Does she think I smoke capris with a cigarette holder? Does anyone know me anymore?
I look around at my house with a pile of laundry on the couch, dishes in the sink, puffs of dog hair clinging to chair legs in the kitchen. I am not who they think I am.
“I’m just going to break it, probably” I say driving home who I am lest she forget. I am the black sheep. I am divorced. I live states away from everyone. I am the fuck up. Never forget the fuck up of the family for she is me.
I grew up afraid of walking too close to the china cabinet. Not able to drink from the sparkly glasses held by adults at my parent’s dinner parties. These are expensive, my mind is telling me. You are going to break the expensive crystal and then what will happen? Your life will be over!
“So it will break,” she says. “Big deal.”
It’s like the heavens open up. I am reminded that I am in charge. I am not a child tiptoeing around crystal and china in a house that has a living room you walk through silently that is filled with couches you can not sit on. I am the owner of this motherfucking house. I am the head of household on my motherfucking tax returns. I fix and replace the shit that breaks.
And what if it breaks? I get a broom and sweep it up. I get every last splinter. I mop. I warn the kids No Bare Feet! in that spot until I’m confident there won’t be crystal shards piercing kid heels and toes and arches.
If it breaks I fix it. That’s what I do. I clean it up. I repair it. I replace it. I kiss it and make it better. That’s what I do.
My cousin and I work through things on the phone, by text, by facebook chat. We drink wine, we laugh, we joke. We are like sisters in my mind. She is grounded and wise. I am impulsive and wild. She does her best at everything, even what she doesn’t want to do, she does it well. I half ass. I joke. I get through. We are inseparable yet separated but social media, text messages, wine and now fitbits keep us in constant contact over nothing that is really everything. And it occurs to both of us, almost at the same time.
What if I never break the china? What if I am so careful that it sits in a cabinet indefinitely? It has already suffered twelve years on a shelf, never touched for fear of dropping it. What if these beautiful, expensive, shimmery, glimmering, fanciful, elegant, expensive glasses were to sit on a shelf for twelve more years? What if I live my life in such a cautious fearful way that I never break my crystal?
Suddenly, this thought is more horrifying, more terrifying, more frightening and real than the possibility that I will break the crystal. The truth has hit me like a gust of oven heat when basting the turkey half asleep on Thanksgiving. What kind of life am I living with all this nice shit I’m afraid to use? Am I that person who won’t grab my opportunities for fear of failure? Am I the girl who will stand by while the good stuff sours past its due date because I’m waiting for the perfect moment that will never come?
“Fuck no” I text her. My profanity another signal that I have no limits. I am emboldened. I am righteous. I march to the fridge in all my glory and crack open a bud light to pour into a Waterford Lismore Cut Crystal water glass. I will dare to live a life where the crystal can break. Where I can break. Where life can motherfucking happen!
“It’s getting late,” she texts.
“Oh wow, you’re right.” I reply noticing it’s almost ten.
“Talk to you tomorrow.”