Sunday, June 20, 2004

Junk and Stuff

I've been thinking a lot about purging lately. Not like bodily purging, just getting rid of stuff around the house.

I am a terrible pack rat. There's very little that I don't emotionally deem worthy of saving, even though rationally I know I will never ever look at it or use it again. This isn't really a problem, as I have plenty of space and I'm organized enough to conserve that space pretty well, but since in three months I will no longer be living alone, and my various knick-knacks and bits of show swag may not be Boy's idea of good decorating, I've started to think about what to let go of.

Strangely, it was my iPod that sparked this line of thinking. Following a tip in MacWorld, I made a playlist for songs that have never been played (iTunes users, this is very easy: just set up a smart playlist for songs whose play count is 0, uncheck the limit (or set it as you wish), and check live updating). It's not actually things I've never listened to, of course, just that have never been played on the iPod or iTunes. But listening to this selection, I realize that the simple fact is that there are several that I am never going to choose to play again, and I can safely and easily get rid of those CDs. (The fact is, in the single-driven world of the iTunes Music Store and having your entire collection on shuffle, I could probably get rid of all my CDs, but I'm not ready for that drastic a step yet.) I can also remove the songs from the iPod with a click, and even remove them from my computer, making a copy of the file on my external hard drive, just in case someday I get a sudden urge to listen to the Henry V soundtrack or Yoko Ono's New York Rock.

This was so easy and somehow satisfying, I decided that I should attack other things around me that I no longer have use for. But since I can't back these things up like data, the task is far more daunting. I've already made a tentative start at the process though. In a weird 2 AM fit, I grabbed a shopping bag and tossed in a lunchbox with a show logo on it (an opening night gift, and a lovely one, but it shares a shelf with a snow globe and poster from the same show, all with the same logo), and some thoughtful and creative but ultimately not-very-decorative opening night gifts from some off-off-Broadway shows I'd done. Above those, on top of the living room bookshelf, sat a Stimpy plush, a Dogbert plush, and a candy-filled penguin that had been a gift of some kind (scary to think of how old the candy is). They looked cute and ironic enough sitting there, but in that moment also very childish and irrelevant. Into the bag they went.

This bag can actually be stored, so these items, all with sentimental value, will be out of sight but not trashed. Then I got bold. On these same shelves was a blue plastic Slinky. I don't actually know why. It wasn't from anything or for anything, but an actual childhood toy that at some point I thought would make nice decoration. I've changed my mind, and into the trash it went. Next to this was a green mug, signed by the cast of a play I did in college. This was an odd gift even at the time, as the mug or its color had nothing to do with the play, and I've never ever known what to do with it. None of those actors have gone on to fame and fortune, and I'm only really still in touch with one of them (and she is represented heavily in photographs around the house, and a birthday card she once sent me that I liked so much I framed), so why had I kept this thing for 8 years? Out it went. Then I got scared and stopped. I can only go against my nature so much.

Plus, not everything is so clear-cut. For instance, my mother went to Russia recently (she's been doing a lot of group tours since retiring), and she brought back a Star Wars nesting doll. This was a very clever souvenir for her to give me, and apparently hand-painted...and ugly and useless. My instinct is to trash it, but my mother carried it across a continent to give it to me. I mean, in her carry-on luggage, not on her back in the Diaspora, but it still seems rude to throw it away. I've got tons of junk like this -- gifts of little worth or sentimental value, but that I feel weird getting rid of.

There's a certain cachet to having read a lot of books, even if I know I'll never read them again. Except I might. I mean, someday. And when that urge hits won't I feel stupid if I have to go out and buy it again? I have a ten-year-old laptop in the closet; that might come in handy someday, right? Old posters in cardboard tubes that I can promise will never go on a wall of mine again, so there can't possibly be a reason to keep them. And yet I do, because they remind me of the time they were on the wall. The list goes on and on.

So what's to be done? The mug and the Slinky seemed so easy, but the rest of it frightens me somehow. The What If of someday needing or wanting these things keeps me from acting. What's an anally retentive, overly sentimental hoarder to do?

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