Clothes Don’t Have Feelings
My mother kept very little from my childhood. Being unsentimental was a lesson my parents had learned as Cuban immigrants. They had to leave everything behind in order to start a new life for their family. They had seen necessity first-hand, and, as a result, they learned to be thrifty and practical. The most memorable example I can share is about a party dress that I wore from age two to five.
After years of hand-washing and caring for that lovely little dress, one would assume that my mother would have grown attached it and had it preserved so that one day my own daughter could wear it. But, no, that dress went from my closet into a 44 pound duffle bag headed straight to Havana. It would be donned by one cousin and then another until they all outgrew it. Would it then go into a box or maybe even come back to me? Nope. It would be sold or traded for another dress, or a pair of shoes, or quite possibly a dozen eggs. Practical and unsentimental.
We were a family of five in a 1000 square foot home with no basement and no attic. Space was at a premium, and storing items we could no longer use was impractical. For the most part, anything in good condition was passed along to family and friends. Other items were thrown out. We kept very few sentimental items—photos, telegrams, letters, report cards—only what would fit on the top shelf of the linen closet. When I got married at 22, the only things I brought from my parents’ house were my clothes and a small box of high school mementos.
I was good at continuing my parents’ lessons, even after I discovered that I’d married a pack rat. There were clothes in my husband’s closet I hadn’t seen him wear once in the seven years we dated.
“My aunt gave me that shirt for my 13th birthday.”
“My Godparents gave me that tie for my eighth grade graduation.”
“I wore this tee shirt that one time I went surfing with Willy.”
Not only did he feel bad getting rid of anything, he felt sorry for the items themselves. An old receipt found in a jacket pocket could become a keepsake.
When the sheer weight of his years of sentimentality brought his closet tumbling down, I pleaded with him, “Clothes don’t have feelings, Babe. Some of this has to go.”
Without realizing it, I started to pick up some of my own pack rat tendencies. I feel guilty parting with wedding gifts, so I’ve lugged around a large bin filled with crystal vases (I didn’t even register for crystal vases) for almost 18 years. Although I clearly remember donating bags and bags of baby clothes, I’ve somehow managed to retain six large bins as well as their crib, changing table, bassinet, rocking chair, toddler bed, and bouncy chair. When the kids started school, I couldn’t bring myself to throw away one single piece of schoolwork. Twelve years later, I have filled 10 containers with homework, tests and artwork—and cannot park my car in the garage.
I have bins filled with ticket stubs, playbills, stuffed animals, maternity clothes, souvenirs, greeting cards, photo albums, Halloween costumes, religious articles given from Baptisms and Communions, and believe it or not, this is half of what I used to have. I’m down to the “bare” sentimental essentials.
On our last big move, I took inventory of everything we had accumulated and promised that from that moment on I would only keep the most important of items. All unused or outgrown clothes, purses, backpacks, furniture, housewares, toys, and games are given away or consigned. No more souvenirs when we travel. No more tchotchkes shoved in the back of a drawer. I’ve asked the grandmas to consider taking the kids on movie or lunch dates in lieu of gifts from The Bradford Exchange or Fingerhut.
As a recovering pack rat, my advice is the following: When your family outgrows something, no longer has a need for it, or it is not in usable condition, immediately pass it along or throw it out. Once you store something for a little while, it starts to hold sentimental value and before you know it, you’re one baby sock away from an episode of Hoarders. It hurts a lot less to look at a photo and say “Aww, I wish I’d kept that,” than to carry it all around for the next 40 years.
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This post was written by Yvette Manes exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.