(This was originally printed in my old blog, One Generation to Another, on April 2, 2008)
When my children were growing up I always kept a mending basket in my room. Sweaters that lost buttons, jackets that needed new zippers and pants that required hemming were layered in the basket. Then, during idle moments, I was able to scoop up the basket and spend the required time needed to repair said items. Sounds efficient, right? There remained, however, a two pronged problem…first, coming up with idle moments, and second, mustering the motivation necessary to spend my precious leisure time on a task as mundane as mending! Suffice to say the basket was seldom moved, and every couple of years when the clothing was mounded so high that the addition of one more item threatened to topple the carefully constructed edifice, I’d need gardening sheers to cut away the carpet that had grown through the basket weave!
For clothing, the mending basket was the kiss of death! I could imagine a particularly astute pair of pants, digging its heels deep into the carpet as it eyed my mending basket, uttering a final plea, “Please, don’t put me in the basket! Anything but the basket. I’ll be good, honest I will! You don’t need to patch the hole in my knee. I like it that way. Yeah, that’s it…I made this hole intentionally, ventilation you know. Just don’t stick me in the basket!” The reality of the situation was…once in the basket…gone forever! Although my intentions were honorable, my follow through left much to be desired!
My mending basket represented one of many “named” piles in our house. Truth be told, I am a stacker. Okay, there you go, I’ve said it. Isn’t that the proverbial first step, acknowledging you have a problem? Trouble is, I acknowledged the problem some 30 years ago, and still I continue to stack. And before anyone asks, NO, I have never sought professional counseling, although, through the years, my family has staged multiple interventions.
They: “Why don’t you just throw that stack of magazines away?”
Me: “Because there are ideas in there I want to save. I’m going to go through them and pull the articles I want to keep.”
They: “You’ll never do that.”
Me: “Yes I will.”
They: “No, you won’t.”
Me: “Want a brownie?”
And so the stack of magazines continued to reproduce until they could be used as a coffee table or to do homework at. Then, on some random day, abounded with renewed determination, I’d grab a pot of coffee, several of the magazines, and a stack of file folders, and begin to “go through” the heap. After flipping through a couple of the magazines, unable to remember what had been so interesting that mandated saving, I’d give up.
Me: “Okay, let’s get rid of the magazines.”
Quickly, the stacks would disappear. You NEVER want to give a stacker the chance to change her mind! Regret was always swift and severe, when later that evening I’d remember that somewhere I’d seen a recipe for quick and easy tiramisu and realize the hidden gem was now the property of the local recycling center! I learned that employees at recycling centers have little patience or compassion for stackers that return to the scene of the crime wishing to be reunited with impulsively discarded treasures! Sadly, I’d walk away knowing our lives were a little less brilliant due to the overwhelming loss.
One of the most awe inspiring stacks was school papers, you know, backpack potpourri…a literary genre in and of itself. This included everything from homework assignments to monthly newsletters. There were book club orders and fieldtrip permission slips. Add articles on head lice and requests for soup labels. Multiple this by 3 children, and the results are devastating for a stacker. I did have the presence of mind to create a substack…things that required action…but the rest landed on the stack “to be gone through more thoroughly at a later date.” These stacks would actually get so high that they required boxes to hold them. They eventually worked their way down to our basement, with me vowing to organize them “soon”. I probably reached a stackers “low point” when I opened my preschool, and had to clear my stacks out of the walk-out. After two weeks of pure angst, I decided to rent an off-site storage unit, to TEMPORARILY house my stacks until I could go through them. (This is not an embellishment for the sake of storytelling, folks, this is the sad, gospel truth!) For 10 years my stacks grew, as I paid a small sum of money each month for what I perceived to be storage of irreplaceable treasures, but really it was for some misbegotten peace of mind.
They: “When’s the last time you’ve been to the storage unit to get something out?”
Me: “I’m planning on going tomorrow. I think I actually wrote it on my calendar.”
They: “Seriously…as God is your witness, when is the last time you took anything out?”
Me: “Define out.”
They: “When is the last time you drove to the storage unit, rummaged through the stacks, and actually brought something home with you?”
Me: “Okay, never, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.”
They: “You’ve got a problem.
Me: “I know I do.”
Eventually, I got rid of the storage unit. My excuses became more and more feeble, and ultimately I knew they were right. I did not have the fortitude to do it myself, and on the dark day when I gave my family permission to “throw it all out” I staged a solitary memorial service. Gone were the never created scrapbooks; gone were the bathroom makeover suggestions; gone were the plant markers from perennials that moved on to a higher plane years ago! I was overcome with a sense of inexplicable loss, but truth be told, I lost nothing of value besides a monthly storage bill!
Since that time, I’ve gotten much better, hmmmm, well, at least better. I still stack, but I usually contain my stacks to a three-tiered basket and my desk’s pigeon holes. Also, as mostly empty nesters, we receive far fewer pieces of potential stack fodder. And, probably having the greatest impact was the introduction of the Internet. With information readily available 24/7 and an almost endless supply of storage, I am able to save important emails, magazine articles and sites of interest in cyberspace…instead of my desk…or dining room table…or foot of my bed! I must admit my computer screen is cluttered with a cornucopia of icons of well-traveled sites, and my favorites list is so enormous and random that although bookmarked, I actually have a hard time returning to a site after I leave it. But it makes me feel secure to know all this vital information is safe and sound, and someday soon I’ll get around to organizing all of it. Really…I will!
Almost everyone has some area of their life that gets away from them. Maybe you’re a stacker or a garage sale junkie or a procurer of vintage garden gnomes…anything excessive that causes others to shake their heads, suggest professional help, or orchestrate a friendly intervention! If you’re willing to come out of the closet and fess up, what behavior do you psychotically…I mean excessively exhibit?