I’ve been writing and rewriting this item on my to-do list for five years. Some months, it goes missing, and then I find it scribbled on an errant Post-It under my desk chair or in my purse, and back it goes on the list again. I must get to that, I think. I must address the 27 plastic tubs of my son’s baby stuff in the basement.
I brought it all with me when I moved out of my marital home and into my own place, knowing full well my son’s father would pitch it all when he settled into a studio apartment in the suburbs. I couldn’t bear the thought of all those treasures being trashed. And so, just as I’d tenderly washed, folded and packed up each onesie, every pacifier and all the scuffed soft leather shoes, I loaded them lovingly into a moving van and then into my basement. They stretch the full length of one wall, piled high above my head. Some are meticulously labeled — “0 – 6 mos.” and “2T – 4T” and “Winter boots & gear” — and others are stuffed full of books and baby dolls and mementos that I couldn’t sort out in one small moment of overwhelm or exhaustion or need for things to be a tiny bit tidier.
So many times, I’ve gone down to the basement with big black garbage bags and a Sharpie marker and plans to just get in there, only to stand in front of it all feeling helpless and paralyzed. There’s a lot in those boxes. Far more than receiving blankets and breast-pump accessories.
Last week, when I started MinCamp along with nearly a thousand other people who are following the sage advice of Minimalist Parenting authors Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest, I just knew one of the assignments would be decluttering kid things. And I knew I needed to jump on my own long-overdue assignment of sorting through those bins before someone else had to tell me to do it.
Finally, finally, I went to the depths of the basement, back in time.
I managed the chaos, bringing up bins with clothes that will soon fit my nephew. I decided to send off the khakis and jeans and itty bitty jammies made for toddler legs to him, set aside a few nostalgic items for a keepsake bin and donate anything left over. My goal was simple: one bin. Just one.
But one bin turned to two, then multiplied to four. Soon, I had three big cardboard boxes addressed to my nephew and an overflowing garbage bag to drop off at a donation center. A few sweaters and well-worn t-shirts were tucked away. I felt enormous relief.
And occasionally, I was attacked by worry. Will I ever have another baby? What if I need these fleece footy pajamas? Gap jeans are expensive! Shouldn’t I hold on to them just in case?
I thought crazy, irrational things that ignited the family hoarding gene. I started fretting about things in the future I could not possibly foretell at the moment I was surrounded by 16 neat little piles of Lightning McQueen t-shirts and stretched-out Halloween socks. I felt protective of the past, not my son’s but of mine, so wrapped up in the care and storage of all these things.
Things are not memories, I know this. But seeing the pen stain on the Christmas polo and holding up the red cords cinched in at the waist so far that they could be a sleeve on my own arm — that brought back more memories than I realized were stowed away in there. I thought back on his Thomas phase, his Chewbacca obsession, the year he loved Bob the Builder and Tiger Woods more than anyone else. I saw back to the time I’d almost forgotten existed when he wore things other than mesh athletic pants and skull hoodies. I had a moment over each of those pieces in time, pieces of time.
Then I let those moments, and clothing and little fake Crocs and impossibly small aviator sunglasses, pass. They are on their way to new homes, other boys, and eventually, probably, time off in another storage space until it is time again for them to be passed along.
The tiniest-newborn bins will probably be the hardest to open. But it will be easier than it was before, considering I have a bit of experience sorting now. Taking charge, not letting the bins control me anymore, sounds dramatic when the discussion is about clearing the baby crap from the basement. But there it is, all pushed into 27 bins, and it is a big job to tackle all that 100%-organic bamboo fibre (and emotional) stuff.
When it is all whittled down to one little bin (maybe two), I want to believe the weight of all of it will be released to the world and Salvation Army. I hope I am lighter, freer, and my brain is full of the moments I’ve folded up and shared with another boy who is just as precious and excited about Bob the Builder as mine was a long time ago.
Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass.
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