Trash and Trepidation

Dearest Rachel –

Please forgive me for what I am about to do.

Earlier this week, Scott Olson visited my folks while I was downstairs in my ‘office.’ This isn’t at all unusual. Ever since his illness two years ago, as you know, Dad has not been much out of the house. He’ll run errands from time to time, and do what he needs to for the sake of fresh air and exercise, but he was ‘sheltering in place’ and ‘socially distancing’ before those were things.

Yup, that’s right, my dad, the health hipster. Maybe I should get him some plaid shirts, and he could grow a handlebar mustache and a thick shaggy beard…

Y’know what? On second thought, never mind.

Anyway, despite limiting external contact, they do regularly receive visitors. Sometimes, they’re just here for the folks. In other cases, they’ve come by to see me as well. Scott’s one of the latter type. After all, I deal with him with regard to the financial statements for both the church and the camp.

But that wasn’t what he wanted to discuss. As it was, the topics were much more weighty.

  • With regard to Chompers: he offered – when the time came – to help us deal with getting him put down. I responded with much of what I’ve been telling you, that as long as the old man is still going, we’re going to make sure he keeps going, because that’s what you would have wanted… I think. So… thanks, but later on that.
  • With regard to the house: he asked me to set up a time to meet with his wife Jan, who is a professional ‘de-clutterer.’ I doubt that’s what those in the profession refer to themselves as, but I don’t think I actually caught a name. He got me to commit to Thursday afternoon. Which was yesterday.

Honey, I know I’ve given you grief about the piles of stuff we have about the place. George Carlin did that whole routine about how a house is just a place for your stuff, and we have so much more stuff than we have places. And it’s not a new issue, either. While I was looking for pictures of you for the slideshow, I found a few photos you must have taken when you were cleaning up the house in preparation for your parents’ staying with us over the Christmas holidays back in 2008, complete with before and after comparisons:

Kitchen: view from the sink
Kitchen: view from the sunroom. The difference is (literally) day and night

Of course, that was more than twelve years ago, and we’ve had time to build up so much more stuff since then:

And this is just the kitchen.

How did this happen? Well, I understand that Marie Kondo, the celebrity organizing consultant (ah, so that’s what they’re called!), speaks of eliminating things in one’s live that “do not spark joy.”

For you, cleaning… did not spark joy. Neither did throwing things out.

I kind of get the cleaning bit. I used to like cooking, but the cleanup was a hassle (and I discovered I was doing it wrong, anyway). Besides, suburban life offered so many opportunities to eat out, why would we bother to prepare something when there are so many competent people willing to do so for us? And so quick and convenient, too!

Yeah, everyone has that single redeeming vice. Ours was going out to eat.

So we would build up leftovers from these places, even as we also did grocery shopping for certain things (such as Chompers’ meals – I swear, that old man eats more vegetables than any of us. Another reason he’s lasting as long as he is). And when we ran out of pantry space, it just wound up on the floor.

But then, there’s the ‘throwing out’ side of things. From your point of view, everything could either be reused or recycled – and that’s fine – but it all needed to be cleaned first. Which, of course, ran right up against the “does not spark joy” situation, doesn’t it? Sure, you would perhaps once a week fill a plastic tub and work your way through a pile of this… what any other person would have called trash… and clean it out before taking it (or having me take it, whoever was going out next – although we so often just went out together it was one and the same thing) and dumping it into the recycling bin. But then there were all those containers you either decided to keep – for Thanksgiving leftovers, maybe? – or to someday take to a place I think you called Betsy’s Table for them to reuse.

Honey, I have no idea where this place is. They’re never going to get there, at this point.

But you wanted to ensure that things were going to a good home. Maybe it’s the Toy Story effect, or – going back to your childhood, more like – the Christmas Toy effect, where everything inanimate has feelings and longs to be useful and/or loved, and to throw them out, well… it’s kind of a betrayal of that thing

I’m fairly sure you mentioned crying to the Brave Little Toaster, too…

Enter Jan. And I suppose I should treat lightly here, as she reads this blog, apparently. But just like I’m telling you, she ought to know that I’m more than a little nervous about doing this.

To be sure, I worried right off the bat about showing her the place, but she assured me she had seen worse. Evidently, she’s had clients where she couldn’t even get into the house, so we aren’t all that bad. And while the kitchen is the main focus for the moment, as it’s a room that just needs to be useful, I made it clear that most of the house is like this, even more so now that you’d moved so much up here from your folks’ place, so we have two families worth of stuff in one house.

She started talking about clearing floor space, and getting rid of everything past its sell-by date… and right away, I knew I was in trouble. You hated to waste anything, and tried to use everything you had (and everything you were given – just because Kerstin or Ellen didn’t need or want something didn’t mean it wasn’t useful or edible, in your eyes. So we were the repository of last resort for a lot of foodstuffs). The thing is, you’ve kind of taught me not to get rid of stuff, either… although you made allowances for stuff that didn’t pass the smell test, and you deferred that task to me and Daniel ever since you had that tumor removed some ten years ago. Dr. Bovis swore that your parosmia had nothing to do with your operation, but the timing of its appearance was beyond coincidence. So we may already have gotten rid of things you otherwise would have kept during your lifetime.

But when it all comes down, one doesn’t generally get an emotional attachment to food. There’s nothing particularly sentimental about anything in our refrigerator or our floor, and by golly, it needs to be done.

“Leftovers make you feel good twice. First, when you put it away, you feel thrifty and intelligent: ‘I’m saving food!’ Then a month later when blue hair is growing out of the ham, and you throw it away, you feel really intelligent: ‘I’m saving my life!’

George Carlin (yes, I’ve name-checked him twice in one letter)

Although, I’ll be honest: it’s actually going to be a painful experience for me when we deal with some of the things in the freezer. You always loved Dilly Bars from DQ, and we still have half a box’ worth left in there that you’ll never eat. I like them well enough, but it’s just that… these were supposed to be yours. It’s gut-wrenching to even contemplate.

And then there’s the stuff you liked, that neither of us did. Dried ginger, left over from one or another sushi place. Daniel did his best to finish off the eggnog from Christmas, but it got away from him and we had to throw most of it out. Even your favorite flavor of Doritos is a little bit much for either of us:

I think you bought it because it was purple first, and then you realized you liked it for the taste

Trust me. I tried one this morning. It was okay for a moment, and then it really kicked in. We’ve got so many other salty snacks around, that I just don’t see working on this.

Then, as we went through the rest of the house (and I’ve shown enough pictures, I’m not going through the whole place just yet, thanks), she started talking about my resting a dumpster.

Throwing stuff out.

And – given the size of even the smallest dumpster – this has to do with so much more than what’s in the kitchen. She’s going on to the rest of the house. And she tells me “I move fast.”

Again, I don’t have an attachment to the past-time food. But I am afraid of getting rid of papers (for example, I still need documents regarding your parents’ passing, thanks to word from this or that insurance company we’ve heard from), especially all your notes from sermons and the like. Anything you’ve written on is suddenly a tiny message from you that I can’t bear to part with. I think I can dispense with grocery lists, but beyond that… oh, I really don’t think I’m ready for that.

And of course, there are the clothes. This makes up so much of the piles in the sunroom, the laundry room and the bedroom. And of course, neither Daniel nor I will wear them, to be sure, but… a dumpster? Please, tell me we’re not doing this! I just couldn’t!

Honey, I can barely write this. I know what needs to be done, but I don’t think I can do it. Jan’s going to be ruthless, I can tell, and I suppose it has to be, but each dress, each purple item… the thought of just throwing them all out, it’s like tearing bits of you from my soul. And I have yet to actually touch a single stitch of fabric.

I really am scared of doing this.

But I’ve committed to it. She’ll be here on Tuesday. All Tuesday.

And I just know this is going to hurt.

Please, honey, please forgive me for what I am about to do.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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