The Great Un-Purging

This post is part of the #Purge365 series about a midlife journey through a year of purging a house – and a life – of unnecessary things. Click here to see all previous posts.

Last week, Project #Purge365 suffered a bit of a setback. Ok, so that was an understatement. It was a giant blow.

Remember how elated I was at the beginning of the year after I dragged that dried up old Christmas tree to the curb? Well, what happened last week felt as if someone dumped ten even drier Christmas trees into the middle of my living room, complete with tacky ornaments from the 1970s and needles pooling everywhere, with the city simultaneously declaring a ban on recycling any more Christmas trees until further notice.

Except it wasn’t an actual tree. It was a shipment from Germany of about 20 moving boxes full of – well – stuff. To be honest, I’ve known for a while that it was coming, but I didn’t have the heart to tell you. We were doing so well until now, you and I, and I was afraid you’d give up on me before we got properly started if you saw all my progress undone. Actually, “undone” is not quite right. “Undone” would mean that we’re adding back the same amount of what I’ve purged so far. I’m afraid it’s much more than that. It’s the mother of all un-purgings.

This is what happened. When his father passed away last year, Noisette traveled to Germany several times to help his siblings clear out the house and put it up for sale. He picked out a few items and had them boxed up for shipment. Back home, when he saw my enthusiasm cleaning out a new drawer every day, he knew that I might come slightly unhinged once I saw what was in store. But when he warned me, I shrugged it off. In my mind, we had one, maybe two boxes of the most coveted family photographs coming. I now realize I should have been more suspicious. This is the guy who cannot come home from his morning walk without a collection of colored golf balls he deems too fancy to put into the bucket I’ve placed on the patio for that very purpose. I constantly find pink golf balls, blue golf balls, and fancy soccer-ball-look-alike golf balls placed on the various platters you tend to have on side tables in your house, along with butterfly wings or squirrel tails or anything else he thinks is a keeper.

So I should have known that I would get things like this in our shipment:

  • A fancy pen in a case, probably a graduation gift
  • an old Texas Instruments calculator
  • a mini Bundt cake form
  • a collection of French language instruction CDs
  • a stainless steel tray for deviled eggs
  • a Swiss army knife (several identical twins of which we already have in one of our many not-yet-purged drawers, never used by anyone)
  • an antique iron
  • an antique musical box and collection of whole-punched disks (very cool)
  • 2 engraved glasses (one of which broke in transit)
  • a plastic magnetic travel backgammon set
  • a homemade table top foozball table Noisette built when he was a bored kid
  • a box of candles
  • an Introduction to Pascal textbook
  • a box of cocktail picks circa 1999
  • a box of toothpicks circa 1950
  • and – gulp – my wedding dress!
more material for #Purge365
My living room for the foreseeable future
more material for #Purge365
A small selection of what arrived in my house; there were also lots and lots of photo albums, CD audio books, and old Super 8 films.
framed paintings and pictures
Yeah, I’m not so sure about that board of sailor’s knots either…

That’s just a quick sampling, but there was more. Remember how accomplished I felt after polishing all that silver last week? Well. I am now the proud owner of even more coffee pots, espresso cups, filigreed napkin holders. Plus an almost-complete set of monogrammed silverware (to add to the other, almost-complete set of silverware of a different pattern we already had). And, helpfully, a silver polishing cloth, already broken in. Yes yes, I try not to complain, but seriously? At this point I could entertain an entire garrison and still have extra forks to spare.

What pains me most was having to add more utensils to my newly-austere Marie-Kondo-ed kitchen drawers.

Marie Kondo-ed kitchen drawer
Good-bye, tidy drawers!

I had just decided I could live with a minimum amount of gadgets. All that empty space was sparking lots and lots of joy. And boom, in the blink of an eye, we are back to cramped drawers. We now have a cookie press for fancy cookie designs, a second ice cream scoop, and – of course! – several more champagne stoppers.

When I lamented my plight to my brother, he told me an anecdote that highlighted the ridiculousness of our family’s propensity to hoard so much stuff. When my grandmother died in 1985, he said, he and my other brother were commissioned by my mother to carry a boatload of heavy armoires from our dead grandmother’s house to the house of the other, still living one. And then when that grandmother died almost 20 years later, the task of cleaning out her house fell to my two brothers again. They went into the attic and found, to no one’s surprise, that it was the very same armoires they now had to haul out once again, this time to Goodwill. No one had made any use of any of them during the intervening decades.

Good thing we live an ocean removed from any potential armoires.

Nevertheless, I feel like I’ve been thinking way too small with Project #Purge365. For some reason, the vision of our middle-aged children sorting through our stuff one day, sniffing suspiciously at items and dropping them, arms outstretched, into giant trash bags, makes me sad, and this shipment hasn’t helped. For every cupboard I’ve tidied up, there is a new item to now take it’s place. A whole box of photo albums after I’ve just consolidated our family pictures. Another two boxes full of books, the large and heavy kind. A stack of Der Spiegel issues to replace the National Geographic collection I’ve finally had the heart – and good sense – to donate to the library. More picture frames (some of which, I’ll have you know, required some more silver polishing!) after I felt so great just last week about getting rid of non-joy-sparking frames.

magazines to be purged
Der Spiegel taking over for National Geographic.

By the way, do you know what also arrived with the shipment? A smell. As soon as the first box crossed our threshold, that peculiar “old house” odor wafted out, and it has settled in with us like a mettlesome mother-in-law. Last time I got the same whiff, we were touring the old house of Paul “Ohm” Kruger, once president of South Africa, which still looks (and I assume smells) exactly like he left it when he rode his train car into exile in 1900, never to return again.

Is there a silver (haha!) lining, you now wonder? You know me well. Despite all my complaining, I usually find a way to suck it up and search for the good news. And indeed, there is.

Yes, there is mayhem in my house. The dining room is stacked to the ceiling with empty boxes and wrapping paper. Cupboards are open with stuff scattered about, waist-high stacks of books block doorways, our dining table is covered in hard-to-place items from end to end. But even though this has created extra work I hadn’t banked on, it has also lent new energy to #Purge365. Both Noisette and I are now pulling double-duty, working alongside to wrestle everything into new resting places. We’re taking the opportunity to give our living room a bit of a do-over. We’ve given the expanded antique camera collection more prominent shelf space. We’ve made better use of existing bookcases and eliminated some items we were surprised to discover neither of us liked much anymore. We are actually having – dare I say it? – a little bit of fun with this.

And in some ways, this has accelerated my purging impulse. Needing to make space for things has boosted my willingness to part with others.

Also, I forgot to mention that the shipment did contain some items that truly sparked joy: an antique barometer, a fully-functioning (if I had any idea how to use one) sextant, the aforementioned music-box that presents as much of a miracle to my children as the discovery of carbon paper, a ledger book from Noisette’s grandfather’s pre-World-War-II grocery store filled with pages of the neatest penmanship,  and rolls and rolls of family documentary from the 1950s.

antique cameras
This newly reconfigured shelf sparks joy
antique music box
This music box works perfectly (if you don’t mind rewinding every minute or so to continue the song)

It will take time for our dining table to be open for business again. On the plus side, I don’t have to look far every morning for that day’s purging project, because the next one is just sitting there in plain sight. I’ll give it three weeks. Whatever I’ve avoided until then, I’ll know that it’s time to take it to Goodwill. And if it literally doesn’t pass the smell test after airing out for three weeks, I won’t feel any guilt about throwing it in the trash.

I’ll keep you posted on what I decide to do with that old wedding dress.

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