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The trouble with decluttering

A journalist friend, Vivian Smith, emailed me and other contacts today asking us for our thoughts about clutter in our lives and "why we cling to useless objects." I emailed her back about my abhorence for putting non-biodegrable objects into landfills and wanting to find a way to recycle as much as possible. But I have been thinking  about it, and realize for me, many items I hold onto are imbued with meaning.

Here is just one example.  I have in a shoebox, in my dining room side board, a very beautiful blue milkglass antique pitcher, given to me in my 20s by my Great Aunt Agnes, a “maiden” aunt who came of age in WW1. Almost all the men of her highschool, including a few sweethearts, died in the war.  As a single woman in her late 30s during the Depression, with almost all the men of her generation wiped out, she knew she would never marry. And not able at that time to conceive of an unconventional life as a spinster, she tried to slit her throat with a straight edged razor. She showed me the long scar on her neck when she was in her 90s. She said: "My heart folded up."

But somehow resiliency prevailed and by the time I was born she had become a leading antique collector of Canadiana. People came from around North America to see her collections of pine furniture, primitive art, cranberry glass and other valuable items in her overflowing Goderich home. She was an shining example to me of how to survive and carry on and make a good and meaningful life come what may. She died some 15 years ago at age 96, a celebrated woman who lived a long and full life.

That little pitcher was a treasured item because it came from her; because it had an intrinsic beauty and simplicity I simply loved to look at; and because I knew it was valuable -- worth at one time a few hundred dollars dating as it did from the early 19th century.

Dashed history
But it is in the box in a dozen pieces. When my girls were about 5 and 3, I very stupidly put a posey of Lily of the Valley in it and put it on the dresser of their shared room. It looked lovely on the white dresser in their blue room, like a picture in a home decorating magazine. But of course, one of them ( neither will own up) threw a pillow or lobbed a stuffy, or pushed her sister, which knocked the jug and dashed it on the floor. Both girls knew this was not good and Mommy would be upset and therefore tried to hide the evidence, but I found the wilted flowers and pieces shoved in the dresser drawer. In tears, mostly mad at myself, I picked up and saved every tiny little piece and hoped that some restorer might put it back together.

But part of me knows it is impossible to mend and I never have looked nor found that magical person who could perform this Lazarus-like miracle. I no longer even hope.

But I can’t throw it out. It is a reminder of my great aunt and her resiliency; of my often unfulfilled desire to create beauty in the chaos of my life; of the need to not try to aspire to home deco porn (as undermining to working mothers as skinny models are to teenage girls);  and as much as possible to keep a check on my unrealistic expectations, particularly when it comes to my offspring. (As my wise mom said: Oh dear, what possessed you to even think of putting that jug in a room with pre-schoolers?!)

And, as a writer, it irks with the darn cliche of it all -- I mean come on: the antique vase paired with children? 

But to me that box is full of meaning and history and folly and experience. I have umpteen things like this. And this is why our lives get cluttered.


Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 08:01PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

I have a gorgeous pink washbowl that my Aunt Mary gave me, jealously guarded on my own dressertop. I know it will break some day, I just hope I am the one who commits the crime. As for whatever possessed you to put the pitcher in the vicinity of children, I would plead Motherbrain. No jury would convict.
Thanks for making something beautiful on this blog which neither of us will have to dust.
May 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVivian Smith

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