Photo by Erik Drost/Flickr Creative Commons.
Cleaning out closets doesn’t usually lead to epiphanies. Usually it leads to a vague sense of satisfaction in knowing you won’t have to haul that stuff on a truck the next time you move, but lately for me it’s done more.
It’s made me realize how far I’ve come.
For the past couple of years we’ve been steadily reducing the amount of stuff we have crammed into our house. You don’t realize you tend to hoard things until you stop and really look at what you have. For us, it started with clothes. We went through closets and dressers, mercilessly tossing things that were too big, too beat up to wear again, or too ugly to have worn in the first place. That last category was all mine. I kept everything anyone ever gave to me even if I hated it and never wore it, because it was a gift. My crinkly little brain thinks you’re supposed to keep gifts until you die. As it turns out, that thinking extends to other things.
Brian was poking around in a closet on Sunday and asked me if I knew what was in the boxes on the shelves. My answer was, “Uh…records.” He said we should look, and I agreed because I really didn’t remember what was in them. I hadn’t looked at them since 2000. They had survived at least four moves, two of which were cross-country. He pulled them down and we got to digging. The first two boxes actually were full of records: specifically, old utility bills and check registers meticulously filed. Pretty sure we don’t need 15-year-old electric bills, so out they went (reeeeee-cycle!).
This purge led us to the big closet, where another pile of unopened boxes lurked. These were veterans of at least seven moves; their contents hadn’t seen the light of day since the 90s. We opened them and I ended up spending a day and a half digging my way out of a memory avalanche. There was a pristine Looney Tunes backpack from the Space Jam era, some hats I forgot I still had (or ever had), and an array of weird crap that is so hilarious I had to keep it:
- Black leather “Freedom Machine” biker hat (now repurposed as my Writing Hat)
- Round-lensed pink sunglasses with pink leather blinders on the sides and wraparound stems
- Rainbow suspenders
- Bunny ears worn every Easter during my four-year stint as Assistant Office Manager for a private security company
- My first transistor radio, complete with broken antenna
- A pile of old writing assignments and story parts that didn’t suck
Today I decided we needed to combine some of these into a visual assault, so I put on the leather hat, pink shades, and rainbow suspenders over my hot pink Wonder Woman sweatshirt. Seeing the resulting photo, I said, “Good lord, I look like something on a Lisa Frank notebook cover.” Brian then did a quick Google search and made this unholy combination.
I LOVE IT. If you’ve never heard of Lisa Frank (or xenomorphs), I don’t know you.
Back to the boxes. We unearthed every card anyone ever sent to me as a kid. Birthday cards, graduation cards, homemade cards, and notes…holy cats, the notes.* From junior high through undergrad, I had approximately 40 pounds of folded paper from my friends, who were all origami ninja note masters.
After reading through those notes for the past couple of days, I’m honestly astonished that I had any friends. The memory avalanche was both good and bad that way. It reminded me of the fun we had and our bent senses of humor (“Smile, you just rotted to death!”). It also reminded me in vivid, horror-show detail of how socially terrified and awkward I was. If someone didn’t talk to me first, I didn’t talk. Ever. As a result of this, my junior high autograph books are so pitiful they’d make you cry. I found those, too.
Reliving school was a little depressing. Then I found my diary. Egads. Entries range from 1984 to 1995. I was 22 when I wrote the last one. Having found it again at 42 I’m tempted to start adding new entries, if only as a way to tell my past self that it did get better. It took 20 years, but we’re strong now. We’re not afraid constantly or paralyzed by what people might think of everything we say or do. We’re confident in our abilities, even able to speak in public, and generally happy. That self-imposed, soul-crushing loneliness did not win. We did.
So, the Great Purges not only increase closet space, they increase brain space by jettisoning all forms of baggage. It’s a good process. I think we’ll continue.
*Addendum: all of the aforementioned notes are being recycled to make new paper for teenagers to fold into throwing stars. We are not responsible for eye injuries incurred from throwing said stars.