Within a day or two, they were starting to come around. The first one here was Johnny, coming to pick up his son Noah, whom I had taken home from his soccer game.
“Where is it?” he asked. You might think that no one could possible miss a dumpster sitting in the middle of a driveway, but considering our driveway houses five vans, a car, various outdoor storage cabinets and many piles of junk, the dumpster really does get a bit lost. Just a little fish, really.
“Right there,” I pointed to the eighteen-foot-long hulking beige behemoth in the driveway.
“Ahh,” he said, sizing it up, as if he had a practiced eye for such things.
“Is there anything in it?” he asked.
“A few things,” I replied, not wanting to get his hopes too high. After all, so far, dad had mainly been clearing things from the driveway and had taken very little from inside the house.
John offered to carry a few things up from the basement, and Dad accepted. I ran downstairs with them to see what he had chosen. There was an old humidifier, one of three old humidifiers, sitting on death row.
“Here, this can go,” he said. John picked it up, and I motioned to one of the other humidifiers.
“What about that one?” I asked hopefully. Dad looked over.
“Nah, I think that one works,” he said. I drooped a little.
“Can you donate it?” I asked.
“Uhhh, probably, uhhh…” he was fading.
“How much life, Dad?” I reminded him. “Yes you can donate it, but how much life will it cost you to hold onto it?” His eyes were starting to crinkle, and I knew
I had lost him. He was over thinking, and when Dad over thinks, nothing gets done except for the thinking itself.
Battle conceded, I turned to Johnny and explained my Thoreauvian motivational strategy. My plan was to use Thoreau’s philosophy of simplifying and letting go of life-sucking things in order to help Dad to let go. He was a hoarder, to be sure, but he was a hoarder who also loved literature, especially American Renaissance literature. I think he fancied himself a bit like Thoreau, albeit maybe in reality the exact polar opposite of Thoreau, considering Thoreau was all about “Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!”
Still, I read a high school essay of my dad’s, stating that he fancied himself a simple man who would love to be floating down the Susquehanna smoking his pipe. Of course, in my mind, he’s jumping off that raft at the first sight of a yard sale. Then, of course, he’d have to amass more and more rafts to accommodate his growing collection, and pretty soon, he would have to upgrade to a barge. I think he and I probably see it very differently. Still, in theory, Dad would like to live the simple life.
Johnny carried a few things out for Dad and tossed them into the dumpster. As he was leaving, Dad stepped in and began to reorganize the garbage. John stared out of his front windshield at the white-haired man inside the dumpster.
“I hate to say it, but doesn’t he look just a little like white trash?” he asked. I glared at him, but I was stifling a laugh.
“Leave him alone!” I said. “He’s trying.”
“Very trying,” John said.
The next to come were my brother Pat and his wife, Jeannie. They weren’t in the house a full minute when Pat found me.
“So where is it?” he asked. “Where is this dumpster I’ve heard about?”
Again, not quite sure how everyone is missing the huge beige rectangular steel container as they walk past it in the driveway. I feel like now they are just screwing with me.
“It’s out in the driveway,” I said. He turned and walked out the door, and I ducked into the breezeway and headed for the attic. I had no desire to give the latest play by play about the dumpster chronicles. Some days, you just don’t feel like talking about garbage. Apparently, though, it makes a great subject for a seventh grade poem.
This is the experience of many of us when we start to dig through our past. What goes? What stays? How will I every get through it all? Before you know it, you’re standing in the garage staring for five minutes at the plastic pen cap, trying to figure out what the hell happened to the pen, and more important, what the hell happened to you. It gets overwhelming to make decisions for every single item in a drawer, let along a closet, a garage, or an entire house. When there is more going than staying, it is tempting to pick through each box and bag, to sift through every corner and shelf and get rid of things piece by piece. But the truth is that even though we don’t want to admit it, we don’t use or need most of the things we keep. Sometimes we don’t even really know why we keep it. Sometimes it’s just easier to pretend that we keep things because we need them than to admit that for no good reason, we just can’t or don’t want to let go.
One solution is to approach these situations backwards. When I have a project that big, I imagine that everything is going and then “rescue” only the things that I absolutely want to or need to keep. And I’m not talking about the kind of compulsive, psychological “I need it because I just do even though I can’t think of a particular reason right now” need, but the “I mow the lawn every week, so I need to keep the lawnmower” need. This frees you from having to make decisions about every single minute item and focuses your energy instead on the positives. You are free to focus on the few things that you actually use as opposed to the many that you don’t.
Not everyone needs a dumpster to clean out their house. And for some people, ten dumpsters wouldn’t be enough to hold everything they should release. Whatever the situation, though, it is difficult to begin the process and even harder to maintain the momentum once you have begun. Still, let’s face it: that is no reason not to try.