Saturday, February 21, 2015

Clutter, or Conservation?

My husband and I agree on most things, but one area where we diverge wildly is what he calls "hoarding" and I call "conserving."

Just yesterday we had an interesting situation where a square of aluminum foil highlighted this difference.

I had fed the cats, and the makeshift tinfoil lid for leftover wet food was disgusting and needed replacing. Usually our "Lid" is a 5 inch width of foil, folded over and smooshed over the open can. I cut it in half, so we'd have a lid for now, a lid for later. I put the extra square on top of the microwave.

When I was making dinner, Bryce came in and promptly took the foil square, crumpled it up, and started walking to the trash can.

"What are you doing? That's for the cat food!" I snapped.
"What? Why would you save this?!?"
"Because it's wasteful to use doubled or throw it out, and the lid gets gross and needs replacing. Why would you throw that out?"
Bryce, trying simultaneously to uncrumple and smooth out the foil square: "I thought it was a candy wrapper!"
"What for, a ginormous generic peppermint patty?!?"
"Maybe! Why were you saving it? Were you raised in the Depression?" The foil ripped.
"Forget it. Just throw it out," I sighed in resignation.
"This is why you're a hoarder."
"ARGH!!! A hoarder has a tiny pathway through the shit piled in the house! I am NOT a hoarder! I am FRUGAL."

We stared at each other for a few seconds, then dissolved into giggles. It was truly a ridiculous argument.

For as much as I keep everything, "just in case," Bryce gets rid of everything. Like, to the extent where he could be a secret agent, purging any evidence of his existence.

A middle ground would probably be good for both of us, but I feel like my carefully curated collection of mementos, journals, old calendars, old photos from the time of actual film (fine, most of those are in a giant jumbled pile in a hiking boot box in the basement, but at least I've got them all) is all coming in mighty handy for the adoption process.

Why? Because of that background check form that we have to fill out, the one with addresses going all the way back 28 years.

For me, the form was relatively easy. I knew a general idea of all my addresses, and thought I knew both the months and years I lived in each and could verify it by...wait for it...cross checking the bag of journals that date back to age 6, stored in my closet behind my cardigan collection. For addresses where I had most but not all information (such as the apartment number for my address in Yonkers), I could call my mom (pretty sure the keep-everything is genetic), who had all her old address books going back and back and back. Plus my grandmother's. And, she has an archive of engagement calendars, mostly Sierra Club, going back forever. I had my addresses and dates all set within an hour.

By contrast, Bryce is struggling. He had a copy of a document from his job that was similar to a background check, so he thought he was set. Except that only went back to 2000. And we need back to 1987. And there are no journals, no engagement calendars, no records from previous houses or apartments. He is a ghost, a spook. No clutter, but no history, either.

Yesterday I listened to him on the phone with his mother, trying to figure out this puzzle. Luckily, solving puzzles is what engineers do best. And I so love that he's turned this into a logic puzzle of sorts--all he needs is the dates for one apartment, the one he lived in after college, but also during. WIth those dates in hand, everything will click into place, like the last triumphant turn of a Rubik's Cube. So the conversation centered on visits made, photos taken, brown turtlenecks worn, move-in season, when John F Kennedy Jr.'s plane crashed, and, for some reason, Christa McAuliffe. They're all pieces to this documentation-less puzzle.

I don't doubt that he will figure this problem out. It will take longer than I'd like, but letting go of self-imposed timelines has become a specialty of mine. And it's worth it to keep the peace, although it is awfully hard not to glory in the irony that it's not just my "creepy memory," as a student of mine once put it, but the familiar tendency of keeping chronicles and relics of the past handy, that has made it possible for me to fill out my page of that form with ease. I don't think it completely redeems my small collection of piles, but it should show some benefits to my commitment to, um, CONSERVATION.

(Bryce approved this message, however with the caveat that I post pictures of his desk versus my desk...)

Bryce's desk. Very neat and clean, yes, but that filing cabinet on the right usually
has several papers and folders and files on its surface. They are missing and the
pink towel is in the windowsill because the ice damming this year has been horrific,
and we had some water dripping in. So a slightly unfair representation of  utter neatness.

My desk. Note, I never said I was an expert filer... Also note that my space is a
dormer nook, not an entire room. A lovely space, but I feel a little like the crazy
wife typing away in the attic here. That's my work laptop and my old laptop that I
can't quite get rid of (need to transfer files). 
Okay, so I felt so shamed by that piley picture that I spent quality time filing
and throwing crap out. Look...a usable desk. And now I can steal the non-
work laptop and put it up here. Crazy wife in the attic, here I come.
(Not really accurate as it's a cape cod, but the second floor is kind of attic space.)
However, the view out the window is the best in the house.


  1. This IS genetic! For me, it's the piles of art supplies that I absolutely-cannot-get-rid-of because someday, darn it, I *will* finish these projects! I'm vindicated on this score almost constantly (when one of the boys needs something for a project, or when I need something for a sign at work or at The Lions Club). But Romeyn is neater than me by a long shot. Solidarity, sister!

    1. need an art supply cabinet in the basement, like I have! Those sterilite things work great.

  2. I loved this post! I laughed the entire time because I so get this! I'm really bad because I get rid of everything the second I don't see a need for it, to the point where Mr. MPB has made me keep some things of my mom and sisters because he thinks its crazy that I'd let go of one of the few things I have from them. Yet, oddly enough, my desk looks like yours and his looks like Bryce's!

    1. Thanks so much -- too funny that you are a let-it-all-go person until it comes to your desk. :) I think my house could use a little getting rid of things we don't need or haven't used in a long time to make space for new stuff, but it's so hard. I'm glad this one made you laugh!

  3. I love this. My husband wants to throw everything out the minute it has seemingly lost its usefulness. I, on the other hand, save things because who knows when it might come in handy again. This post males me feel vindicated. Incidentally, does Bryce always use the nicest thing (dish towel, cutting board, blanket, etc.) to do the dirtiest jobs?

    1. Ha! Yes, sometimes I have to save receipts for major purchases or else it all goes in the trash. I'm glad I vindicated you! Bryce does not actually use the nicest thing to do dirty jobs, because he is an incredible neatnik and loves his nice stuff. He takes very, very good care of the things he does have. So there's that! YOu made me laugh with that though... He does have interesting ideas about what constitutes "clean" for dishes and pans though that are handwashed. Nobody's perfect! :)