I’m the opposite of a hoarder: I’m an over-purger.
Not in the gastronomical sense; I like my meals to go one-way. But when it comes to stuff and things, I get a distinct pleasure from parting with items, sometimes before their utility or even sentimental value has fully expired. They’re just things, I say. Out with the old! Taken to it’s pathological extreme, such behavior is called compulsive decluttering. I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I just don’t like stuff.
Also, I’m a mom with small kids.
We don’t buy much stuff, especially toys, but let me tell you: with kids, STUFF HAPPENS. Like fruit flies on a discarded banana peel in a screenless, open-windowed house in the muggy, Belgian summertime.
It feels like our claim on random, unhelpful doo-dads increases exponentially by the day. They insinuate themselves from all sides. From friends and neighbors; through impulse buys at the second-hand store; as “free gifts” from the drug store; from family.
Meanwhile, my daughter is a treasure-hunter. She carries a little purse for her goods: a zipper tab, a bottle cap, a puffy sticker that’s lost its sticky, a chestnut. Then, she either hoards her booty beneath a multitude of blankets and dust bunnies under her bed, or she arranges it into curiously methodical little displays. And woe to the clumsy brother or custodial parent who disturbs these formations.
I have moments when that tearful Velveteen Rabbit scene where they burn all the toys contaminated by Scarlet Fever reads like cathartic fantasy.
That said, my stuff tolerance has increased, and I deal with the influx mostly sanely. Besides, when kids are young, it’s easy enough to “disappear” playthings, or bench them for later re-release. And, like I said, I find the act of sifting through and mostly disposing of various manifestations of solid matter somehow satisfying.
But soon, we’ll be leaving the Old World for the New, so the stuff situation is getting more complicated. Lately, when I look at their toys, no longer does the act of riddance register as giddy, purgative relief. In fact, I feel a curious dilation in my chest when I sort through those plastic stethoscopes, tiaras, and train cars (while my kids alternately sing and scream at each other in the next room).
All of the sudden, I’m the Grinch on Mount Crumpit, perched on the snowy precipice of this, our first family move …which is actually not very much like Christmas, and also, I’m not a green, cantankerous hermit who torments dogs and burgles adorable wingless pixie people. But still….
I realize that, like Christmas, moving across an ocean means “a little bit more” than baubles and “roast beast” … and yet, the enormity of this family change prompts in me a strange, new preservation impulse.
We’re changing our kids’ home, their neighborhood, their city, country — even continent. They’ll lose teachers, preschool friends, and even the Flemish Dutch they speak. They’ll lose the view from their bedroom window, the pealing wallpaper they can’t stop picking at in bed, the muffled voices of our upstairs neighbors, and the classical piano played by the neighbor below. They’ll lose the sights, sounds, and smells of their earliest years. They’ll lose Belgian fries with a side of mayonnaise!
They should probably keep their Leapfrog “computers,” plastic dinosaurs, and angel wings. The pillow paunch of her giant giraffe plush toy, the rhythmic resistance and mechanical yip of his Fisher Price pull-toy dog, the sour polyphony of their toy harmonicas — they need material cues like these to orient them within our new lives. To claim ownership over their new setting by scattering their rightful property across a brave, new nursery, like the banner of some mighty nation state upon newly discovered ground!
…but the creepy plastic hair-doll bust with the over-painted, accusing eyes: She stays here.