My baby, just a mere speck of a thing, a child smaller than most honest housecats, has, in the space of a few brief, non-ambulatory months, managed to acquire enough crap that we’re on the verge of being forced to move our queen-bed onto the balcony. I’m not exactly sure where the stuff comes from, but I do know that it just keeps coming. We’ve got more blankets than an Arctic rescue team, most of them handmade with love. We try to cycle them over the sleeping baby for photo-ops, and we can usually get about 40 good snaps before she wakes up and makes it clear that it’s 90 degrees in her room, she’s already wearing three hand-embroidered onesies and she didn’t want a blanket in the first place. The baby herself could still fit quite comfortably inside my left snowboot, but she’s got an entire steamer chest full of blocks and toys and stuffed animals all eagerly awaiting their call to active duty.
Since it seems pretty clear that the baby isn’t going to mend her acquisitive ways, my wife and I have realized that it’s up to us. Goodwill beckons; we’re making piles.
But the truth is, we need everything. Nothing is nonessential or we wouldn’t have it in the first place. During a younger, more obsessive-compulsive stage in her life, Shona collected miniature pencil-sharpeners, and, honestly, how could we give those up? Suppose due to Homeland Insecurity they need to hold the LSAT in our living room? Thank God we’d be prepared for the legions of dully graphited legal wannabes.
A friend gave me a piece of petrified lava from Rwanda. It’s really just a crumbling bit of black rock, poised to leap off a shelf at the slightest hint of earthquake, but I’m afraid the people at Goodwill won’t appreciate it for the geographo-culturo-significant relic it really is. Also, I worry that giving away anything that comes from Rwanda will leave me open to charges of historical insensitivity. Into the pile it goes, I suppose. But, for the record, my position on genocide: anti, staunchly anti.
The closets are the true front lines in the clutter wars. My closet at least. Shona carefully considered every item on her rack and declared each one to be essential. It’s true, she did wear that Scheherazade half-shirt one New Year’s last millennium, and if she ever wants to reprise her third-grade figure skating championship (a double-lutz to the strains of Bolero!) she’ll definitely need the yellow polka-dotted mini-tard. Fair enough. Who am I to question haute couture?
So into my closet I go. Since I’ve worn the same thing (free T-shirts, shorts, jeans when I go to San Francisco) since junior high, I can’t really cull anything due to its having fallen out of style. An article of clothing has to have fully served out its life to merit relegation to the pile. But when exactly is a T-shirt no longer a T-shirt? Ah, this is the way of Zen, grasshopper; we must await the answer mindfully. All of the items on my shelf have holes for arms, a bigger one where a neck might conceivably go. Many even still have near-legible logos for races I never ran and charity events I didn’t attend. Thus, they are all still shirts.
A significant impediment to adding something to the pile is the myth of home repair. I probably have 40 shirts and 10 pairs of jeans that I save “in case I ever have to do some painting.” Of course, I live in a rental and avail myself of the tenant-landlord relationship every time the faucet leaks, but I still need a full stable of work clothes in case the landlord decides to leave me the building after he dies.
The ownership of work clothes puts me on a slippery slope. Every few weeks my good clothes get dirty and the work clothes get elevated to frontline status, thereby redefining the center to the point that I now consider a two-year-old magenta Eddie Bauer T-shirt to be formal wear by virtue of the fact that it has a pocket, no logo and no visible stains (provided that it’s tucked in. Way, way in).
But here’s the real stumbling block: The thought that Goodwill might actually accept my rejects makes me unutterably sad. Being panhandled up and down Shattuck every day doesn’t pierce my cold, cold heart, but the notion that somebody might be in bad enough shape to actually purchase castoffs from someone with no discernible taste and a very low hygiene threshold is enough to make me start handing out twenties.
And so I say: Oh hell with it. There are just too many reasons why we need to hold on to every last shred of junk. Goodwill is out, my stuff is in and the baby’s going up for adoption so we can have her closet back. It’s a solution that’s simple, crisp and tidy, just like my apartment used to be. Wash hands, declare victory. Next problem?
Zac Unger, a Berkeley resident, is an Oakland firefighter.