Tuesday, December 27, 2005

'Tis the season to declutter

I received an e-mail the other day from 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, which is a business that specializes in helping people get rid of stuff they don’t want any more.

The e-mail described some of the things that people had kept for years and finally decided to part with, such as, among other things, a seven-year-old pregnancy test, prosthetic legs, 18,000 cans of expired sardines and a diffused bomb from World War II.

The e-mail then suggested that seeing that a lot of people make New Year’s resolutions to “declutter,” I probably would be doing the same, and that it might be fun if I wrote a column about some of my craziest junk and what had possessed me to keep it.

The e-mail definitely gave me food for thought. My first thought was that I hadn’t “decluttered” anything in about 20 years. In fact, opening closets or cupboards in my house requires the protection of a crash helmet, to prevent a concussion from low-flying objects.

Another thought was that if I wrote about all of my craziest junk, my column would end up being the length of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Sure, I know that there are a lot of things I really should toss out. In fact, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? probably would have a field day in my place. But the reason why I rarely part with my things is purely sentimental.

For example, there’s the dress I bought during my vacation in England back in 1968. It’s bright orange, has huge puffy sleeves, about 50 buttons down the front, and is so short, there is no possible way to sit in it without flashing someone. And even if I greased my body with lard, I couldn’t squeeze into that dress. So why do I keep it? Sentimentality.

And then there’s the set of Teflon-coated pots and pans I bought way back when I got engaged (and Teflon probably had just been invented). There was a company called Fingerhut back then that would send its products to you and, with no credit check, allow you to make really low time-payments. I think I made payments on those pots and pans for about four years.

So maybe there is hardly any Teflon left on them and they are so dented, they look as if I flung them off the top of Mount Washington. And maybe I haven’t used any of them in over 20 years because the flaking Teflon makes everything I cook look as if it’s been laced with black pepper. So why do I keep the pots and pans? Sentimentality.

Then in my bedroom closet, there’s a big box filled with all of the dance-recital costumes I wore back when I still was in grammar and took dance lessons. There’s my swan costume from Swan Lake, my Mexican Hat Dance costume, complete with a glow-in-the-dark satin sombrero; and my firefly costume with light-up wings. My tap shoes and a pair of castanets also are in the box.

Have I kept these costumes and tap shoes for 45 years because someday I think I might have a sudden urge to jump up and tap dance or wear a glow-in-the-dark satin sombrero on a shopping trip to the mall? No. It’s pure sentimentality.

The most clutter, however, is caused by my collection of videotapes. I have videotapes everywhere: in drawers, in boxes under the bed, in cabinets, behind the TV, on racks that hang over the doors, in Tupperware containers under the kitchen sink, and in paper bags and shoe boxes in closets.

Most of the tapes are so old and brittle I don’t dare put them into the VCR for fear they instantly will disintegrate. A lot of them contain TV shows and movies I recorded but never got around to watching, like the final episode of Cheers and the 1988 Miss America pageant.

The rest of the tapes contain hours of footage of my dogs doing exciting things like yawning or chewing on tennis balls, and endless hours of my failed attempts to capture something worthy of sending to America’s Funniest Home Videos.

So why do I keep all of the 4,756 videotapes? Because on one of them, which I forgot to mark, is the TV commercial I created years ago when I won the “Make Your Own TV Commercial” contest sponsored by Building 19.

Someday, when I have about 700 hours of free time, I will fast-forward through all of my videotapes and find that commercial, which is less than a minute long. Till then, not even one tape is going to leave my house…not until I locate my masterpiece.

But I can’t take all of the blame for the clutter. After all, I’m not the only one in the house who is sentimental. My husband still has the tooth he had extracted three months ago. And in his closet, he keeps a brick he took from Lincoln Street School, his alma mater, as it was being torn down. And although I’m not sure exactly where it is, somewhere in the house is an envelope that contains photos of his ex-girlfriends.

Now that I think about it, I just might give 1-800-GOT-JUNK? a call and tell them to come on over…to get rid of my husband’s stuff.