17 July 2010

Random Thoughts on Sentiment and Roots and Clutter

So far it's been an amazingly hot summer in Berlin, after a quick turn around from an unseasonable (but bog standard) chilly one. In Sunday it was 40C+, or aout 104F. It's a bit better now, in the low to mid-30s most days, but still sticky and muggy. That would be fine, but it doesn't cool down at night, which means each day starts sticky and muggy: my Russian and Nort East US background both rebel against this weather.

However, things are plugging along.

I read an interesting article about clutter and life, on keeping things and throwing them away, in the NYT. The comments were as intriguing as the article and as I read through them, I ran across and was interested in a comment from someone who decided to de-clutter his life, one item (at least) a day for a year, and to keep a blog about it: (or as he calls it,) Downsizing. It was interesting to see him reach for items on busy days and achieve big successes on other days, particularly as he wound up moving and needing to pack, and as he and his wife had a baby and needed to look at baby clutter (or possessions, in a non-pejorative term).

I enjoyed reading through his blog and found myself laughing and admiring his follow through. It made me look around (again), as I often do, and consider my own clutter. I have a lot of it. The vast majority is books, magazines, and paperwork. But next up is the girls' things. There are crafts and books, clotes in their sizes,clothes that I am packing up because they are too small, clothes that are just a little too big and maybe should be available. There are boxes that I have just unloaded from summer clothes and boxes that are being loaded with fall and winter clothes. There are boxes of toys that I am hoping they have out grown so that I can give them away and boxes that are currently age appropriate. We have two girls, separated by three years,but only by a size or two in clothing, so everything overlaps.

In addition, it might be considered clutter, but I consider it a tremendous boon that my brothers also have girls and that I am swimming in hand-me-downs. So we brought over 23+ boxes of children's clothing, age labelled, and boxes of kids' toy, ditto. Because children aren't always the sizes that the clothing states, boxes are constantly being shuffled, which creates waves of chaos. I'm not complaining: the girls have had wonderful clothes and toys, far nicer than I could have purchased, but it does create chaos. Each time we go to the US, I bring back another load or two and need to clean, sort and consider our booty.

My books are an issue: even with the Kindle, I find myself with too many. I've sold some on Amazon, but as Reed found out, Amazon and Craig's List have their own issues, particularly with no-shows and the cost of shipping, and Germany is probably not the best place for my esoteric taste in books to hit a chord (in English). At home I would hand my no longer wanted books over to the library for the annual sale: here, I'm not yet certain what to do but I will soon decide: the packing box I'm filling with the unwanted books is almost full. I can't yet make myself want to buy Kindle books that cost more than physical books, but I can see why people would move that way.

Then there are the school things, for the two girls (and for myself), and the work things for the German. On a regular basis we shred and recycle and discard. I try to hang new artwork and to store old: should I start taking picture of the art and discarding the original?

I think part of the reason that I am such a pack rat and such a sentimentalist is because all my life I have felt the lack of roots.

My mother's family had fled, rootless, from Tsarist Russia and Byelerusse. My grandmother was too young to know very much and she was never told very much: in America, it was about fittin g in and becoming American. We have no heirlooms or keepsakes. Not even photos or stories.

My father survived Auschwitz, after seeing his baby sister murdered in front of him and watching the majority of his family die. Two other brothers survived of his large and extended family. But he left the practice and the way of his forebears and became, as well, an American, after some interesting travels and work of his own. We were raised in English and as Americans. But we had no relatives and no past, no family photos and almost no stories that did not bring forth tremendous sorrow, which we avoided, because who wants to bring pain to the ones we love most?

So, rootless and languageless, I try to create roots by keeping things that have meaning. But really, so much is clutter. One person can't create a history and if I can, it won't be through souvenirs and small remembrances.

The mother of someone whose blog I enjoy died this past week. As she told us why she was not posting, I was struck by part of her eulogy: she said that her mother had never said a negative word and had always had her back.

I think that's one of the loveliest things I have ever heard.

So I'm going to try to de-clutter and down-size and calm our lives down, in hopes of being able to spend less time running around and cleaning and tidying and more time having quality time and peace. I expect it will take me a while— if it takes as long to pare down as it did to build up, it may take years, so to keep myself going I'm going to blog about it here.

I'm curious to see how it goes.


Fiona said...

What a very inspiring and heart felt post.
This is something that I could also benefit from devoting more time and thought to.
Good luck with the de-cluttering!

G in Berlin said...

Fiona- Your blog is also an inspiration to me. Every time I read a post about what you and your girls are doing together, I think that I need to improve on what I am doing. You seem to always have time and interesting things to do with your girls, and I feel frazzled. I'm hoping to get more serenity and family time out of this.
I showed my husband your last few posts and it's making us think about moving again, to an area with nature that we would enjoy more. When we drove to a lake with the girls, I thought how great it would be to be somewhere we could just walk or even bike to.

honeypiehorse said...

Good luck! It feels good getting rid of stuff. Sometimes it also feels good keeping it. I think the trick is to know the difference.