The kids will never believe it, when the time comes, which is why I'm going on record right now to say we have, in fact, gone through this house and thrown out stuff.
I'm not saying we've made a dent. A dent is an ambitious goal. I'm saying after several forays into our home office, a few random cupboards and the storage closet off the upstairs bathroom, we may have made a dimple. If we continue to make dimples as long as our health allows, by the time the job passes to our children, they might actually notice our efforts.
It's unlikely, I realize. Not because our children are oblivious, but because the task is so daunting. Think about it: When we moved into this house, we had a months-old baby. That baby grew up here, as did her younger sister. They went to preschool, grade school, high school and college. They played sports. They brought home husbands and then children. Several dogs have been well-loved here. Birthdays and holidays are celebrated. I'm compressing across time and space, but you get the idea: All this living includes stuff -- lots of stuff.
Artwork, for instance. Are we supposed to crumple up the picture our daughter drew in kindergarten, when we didn't own a television? Above what was supposed to be a cartoon dog, she wrote, "My favorite show is 'Scooby-Doo' even though I never get to see it."
Are we supposed to toss the plaques our daughters received for being most improved in some sport or other? The art-class basket that lolls drunkenly on its bottom? English reports on "Animal Farm" and "Ethan Frome"? The several thousand pictures they each took during their respective eighth-grade trips to Washington, D.C.? Their graduation programs? The wedding pictures whose numbers rival the drops in the ocean?
I'm not the mother who saved every onesie my daughters ever wore, but I did keep a few baby things: a red-and-white hooded snowsuit in which our older daughter looked like a surprised elf; and my younger daughter's favorite blanket, a crocheted afghan, to which my growing daughter had pinned a note: "Jeffrey can have this now." Jeffrey was our German shepherd, who had always been interested in the blanket. We have thousands of Jeffrey pictures, too. Am I supposed to just cram these things in the wastebasket?
Along with sentimental items are all the necessities of life: sheets, towels, tablecloths, picture frames, boxes, novelty books, candles, pencil holders. They have a way of collecting as the years pile up. Just the other day, our waffle iron all but fused to the dining-room table before we noticed a problem. Now we have a decision to make: Buy a new waffle iron, or stick to restaurant-sourced waffles going forward? Related to that is another decision: Do something about the scorch mark on the table, or call it "patina" and move on?
It's easy to cull some household stuff. Threadbare blankets and pillow cases. Never-used dishes given to us by relatives who themselves were culling. Correspondence saved for no good reason.
Notebooks and diaries that predate our children had to go, of course, lest they fall into our children's hands when it's too late to shout explanations over their laughter.
Meanwhile, my husband, in the closet, pulled out the backpacks we had carried during our months hitchhiking through Europe. He unearthed our sleeping bags, too: orange, mummy-style down sacks that often were so warm it was like waking up inside a damp, closed umbrella.
We looked fondly on these relics, but we never for a second considered hanging on to them. Some things are easy to discard. Harder is almost everything else, but we're working on it. Maybe, just maybe, our daughters will look at each other across stacks of old music tapes, their own souvenir prom glasses and the roughly 632 vases in the dining-room cupboard and feel grateful.
Then, if I act fast, one of them won't hold up the rotary phone that I know is on a shelf in my closet and ask, "Why?"
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.