Mother knows best

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The wisdom of letting old stuff go

When I was a kid, my mom regularly got rid of stuff that had gone out of use around the house. She wouldn’t keep things around just in case we might want them someday. The stuff we didn’t need would go to those who did or to Goodwill.  

That could be annoying. Sometimes Mom would jettison things I liked. One time I discovered that the fossil collection I’d assembled during a sixth grade science trip had disappeared. Never mind that it had been sitting untouched in a box for several years. What if I wanted to pull it out and explain the attributes of a Pecten raimondi to my friend? OK, never mind. Maybe it was smart that Mom gave those fossils away.

She also got rid of my 10-speed bike. Well, it wasn’t exactly assembled at the time. I had taken it apart to adjust some things that weren’t working right. Because I didn’t get around to reassembling the bike, out it went. Later I found out Mom gave the parts to my older brother, who put the bike together and sold it! Sheesh, leave something lying around in pieces for a couple of years, and she gets all impatient.

I was thinking about this because my wife and I recently made the mistake of attempting to clean out our garage. Digging into boxes that hadn’t seen daylight for a decade, I suddenly realized that Mom was a woman of great wisdom and foresight. I wished we’d followed her example of getting rid of stuff in a timely manner.

I found a stack of old record albums and seven or eight boxes of books. I also uncovered two almost-new air mattresses for camping. This was funny, by which I mean irritating, because a few days earlier we had bought yet another camping mattress to send with our daughter on a youth trip. Dear Mother, you were right. If we kept things organized like you did, we wouldn’t always be buying extras of items we can’t find.

Now we’ve cleared out room to collect new books, and opened space in our garage to gather more junk. Oops, scratch that last part.

I hope. The natural tendency, of course, is to hang on to the old stuff and keep adding more. Down the street from us a bunch of new houses have been built with three-car garages. This is so residents can park their cars…outside. That way the garage can be piled high with boxes, bikes, boats, barstools and whatnot, the way nature intended.

Cleaning out my garage, I’ve realized there are other parts of my life that can get cluttered with old stuff. My mind can harbor outdated assumptions and prejudices, for example. I was impressed recently when my kids returned from a mission trip to a diverse urban area. They explained how serving in such a place changed their perspectives on immigration, poverty and homelessness. They learned to be more compassionate. That warmed my heart, but also reminded me to keep pursuing new ideas and opportunities in my own life.

Speaking of my children, I need to keep shedding old ways of relating to them. They’re both in high school and have long ceased to be little kids. Most of the time. As they grow into adulthood, I learn to give them more trust and ind, uh, inde, ahem, indepen, cough, independence. Whew, that’s hard. Hey, I’m trying to be more mature too, just like they are.

I also need to toss my old ideas about getting old. I never worried much about aging before, but lately that’s changed. After injuring my knee while skiing last March, I began to feel fragile. I was whining about this to a friend when he reminded me that I was upright and active, still married to my first wife and remembered which end to play on my guitar. So everything was cool.

True. I’ve tried to keep those things in mind, even when I feel a little ancient. But my knee has healed and my mind is, uh, what’s the word, oh yeah, sharp. I’m no fossil yet. There’s still a lot of living to do.

CL Archives
This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at editor@usmb.org.

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