It’s time to confront the ‘100 Thing Challenge’

The pro­ject is so mo­nu­ment­al that we’ve put if off for eight years. And that’s a lot of pro­cras­tin­at­ing.

On the day we moved in­to our cur­rent digs, we had cer­tain car­tons labeled “Base­ment.” And that’s where those car­tons went.

They’re piled neatly against all four base­ment walls, a kind of sen­try of shame.

I’ve glanced at those car­tons every time I go down the base­ment steps to our spare freez­er to pull something out, and every time, I feel a stab of guilt. And guilt, as you’ve prob­ably learned, is the most use­less of emo­tions.

So I’ve de­cided after lo these many years to at­tack each car­ton, and to purge. Yes, purge. It’s a word my head un­der­stands, but my heart doesn’t.

I’m clut­ter-chal­lenged. I col­lect things. All man­ners of things.

I’m ad­dicted to rum­mage sales and yard sales, and I can’t ex­plain why I keep buy­ing orphaned things. But I do. The base­ment car­tons bear mute testi­mony to my weak­ness. No mat­ter how res­ol­utely I try to pass the yard sale sign or the bric-a-brac table at the church rum­mage sale, I can’t.

So on one of the rainy days that seemed to beg for an in­door pro­ject, I went down those base­ment steps armed with huge green trash bags. It was time to face the mu­sic – and I even brought some of my own. The an­cient kit­chen ra­dio was my com­pan­ion.

I turned it to the coun­try sta­tion and plunged in.

The first car­ton, marked “Lin­ens,” held camp sheets and tow­els from when our daugh­ters lived in cab­ins in the woods and brought home “lin­ens” that were suit­able only as house­hold rags. Why had I kept them, let alone moved them from one home to an­oth­er?

That car­ton was easy.

An­oth­er was marked “Frames.”

And lo and be­hold. There were the pic­ture frames that had been “miss­ing.” They were in a jumble, dis­covered a bit too late. I’d gone out and re­placed every one to fit my photo fa­vor­ites. So much for car­tons taped shut and for­got­ten…

On the same sweep, I dis­covered clothes that had been lugged along with us be­cause our daugh­ters, who still re­gard wherever we are as their stor­age haven, had in­sisted that yes, these clothes would be needed.

The car­tons re­vealed a his­tory of Amer­ic­an fash­ion, from bell-bot­toms and cut-offs to some 1980s at­ro­cit­ies. Most of them could be traced to Amy, the fam­ily funk queen who first in­tro­duced me to thrift shops. Since they’d been stashed for five years, the as­sump­tion was that Amy and her sis­ters could live without these rel­ics. But still…haul­ing them over to a char­ity might earn me the wrath of my daugh­ters.

The car­tons stayed.

I faced sim­il­ar di­lem­mas with al­most everything I touched on that long day: the pots and pans that I hadn’t used in years had a cer­tain grav­it­a­tion­al pull. They had been with me since early mar­riage. I might need them someday. They even had a sen­ti­ment­al qual­ity.

I didn’t dare dis­pose of the kids’ old note­books, let­ters and, surely, ab­so­lutely not the stick fig­ure draw­ings that oc­cu­pied an­oth­er group­ing of car­tons.

So I will be mired in stuff for the rest of my days. I am em­bra­cing the Amer­ic­an re­li­gion of sen­ti­ment­al clut­ter. I’m back to where we were five years ago. The car­tons con­tin­ue to gobble up the base­ment space, their con­tents bur­ied un­der card­board flaps.

I’m weighed down with rem­nants of the past that have no place in my fu­ture. Yet I cling to them.

A friend has told me of a new move­ment called the “100 Thing Chal­lenge.” Its mis­sion is to get us to whittle down our earthly pos­ses­sions to – yes, 100 things.

Cur­rently, I have more than 100 things in the kit­chen junk draw­er, and pos­sibly al­most that many in my pock­et­book.

But hey, it al­ways helps to have a goal. ••

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