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Column: The Things We Keep



For the Valley News
Saturday, August 13, 2016

At the end of the summer, I take pleasure in purging my house of summer leftovers. The half-used bottle of sunscreen. The never-inflated beach ball. The untouched utensils that came with our new grill. I love getting rid of stuff. I’ll donate, recycle, consign or trash every unnecessary item I can. I’m officially an anti-hoarder.

Apparently, there is a medical condition for obsessive decluttering: ataxophobia. (I would have guessed that this term meant a fear of taxes.) Thankfully, I don’t suffer from this extreme phobia. I can handle clutter. I’d just prefer to get rid of that old toaster.

My father has a garage full of stuff. He’s not a hoarder, but he keeps things around about 30 years longer than I would. I’ve never wished that I kept that old teddy bear or that old leather jacket. Most of the time, I can’t even remember things I once had. It’s not that I’m not a sentimental person; I love a trip down memory lane. But I also like making room for the future.

My lifestyle reflects my anti-hoarding sentiment. I laugh when articles like “Ten Ways To Declutter!” advise folks to throw out their ripped, stained or misfit clothing. All of my clothes in my closet fit and have been worn regularly. (They might not be the most stylish clothing in the Upper Valley, but they work for me.) I have a bookcase at work that holds very little. And, I only own six spoons. (Over the years, our spoons have escaped in leftover containers with dinner guests.) I haven’t replaced them, and, to be honest, it forces me to be a bit more diligent about dishes.

The Upper Valley makes it easy to donate items for charitable causes. My depot of choice is the Listen Center. I’ve donated a hodge-podge of items to the Listen Center, including a barely used ivy green carpet, a red and black flannel colored pair of mud boots, and a collection of odd books (some of which have never been cracked open). I recently donated a gorgeous empire-waisted purple dress with a sequined collar which I hope will have a terrific second life on some lucky lady.

It also gives me pleasure to get rid of food from my pantry. I like to eat what I have. This week, I’ve vowed to eat that jar of marinated artichokes that I’ve owned for over a month. (I try not to keep anything in my pantry for over a month, which in some ways seems counterintuitive to the purpose of a pantry. Isn’t it where I’m supposed to keep homemade jarred pickles for months?) Boxes of pasta, jars of black beans, packets of taco seasoning . . . it all has to go within four weeks. It doesn’t matter that the tomato sauce doesn’t expire until December 2017. I’ll use it before next Wednesday. And if I don’t, it gets donated to the Upper Valley Haven.

Sometimes I’ll bring home stuff I really don’t need. But for the most part, I try to export more than I import. When friends have “swap” parties, I end up bringing a lot to give away and bringing home very little (if anything at all). With all of these donations and putting things to use, I still feel like I have plenty of stuff. I’m grateful for having things to give.

Sure, there are special exceptions to the “use or donate” rule. I keep birthday cards from childhood, particularly from folks I’ve lost in the past years. (My high school graduation cards from my late grandparents are priceless.) I keep a glass jar of “Tinkerbell Dust” from my first childhood trip to Disney World. (When I’m having a particularly bad day, I’ll sprinkle around a pinch of this glitter.) I also can’t seem to part with my “New Jersey State Ski Team 1989” because it’s one-of-a-kind and it still fits. And, I hold on to my high school and college yearbooks, which continue to provide entertainment.

Recently, while cleaning out an old desk, I found the first love letter I ever received. It was from a boy named Scott who sat next to me in English class in 6th grade. In the letter, he asked me to the movies with a group of friends. We never went, but I still couldn’t toss the letter. I tucked it back in the drawer, safe and sound. I may be an anti-hoarder, but some things are irreplaceable.

Becky Munsterer Sabky lives in Norwich. She blogs about life’s little moments at thebeckypages.com.