2021: The Year of Decluttering

That title up there? I like to call it “Double-click Bait”

Because you might have opened this post to figure out how I could possibly get the year so wrong,
or because you thought, “Ooooo, more hints on how to declutter!” Or both.

Decluttering, as everyone knows who watches TV, reads books, or keeps up with social media, is the new national religion.
It’s the current mania.
Our version of 1999’s biggest trend—stocking up on survival skills for when Y2K crashed the world.
It’s replaced determining our love language, and developing habits to be a Highly Effective Person.
It even nudged out learning to dance the Macarena.

Any time there’s a trend everyone is doing, and everyone is telling me I want to do it, my contrary nature and stubborn Dutchness exert themselves.
I dig in my heels and refuse.

So far I’ve bucked the infatuation with decluttering. But it’s so widespread that no matter how fast I scroll past ads and accolades for it, I at least know we are supposed to ask ourselves this:
Does my stuff bring me joy?

This is my answer.
You betcha.

For the sentimentalist, (of whom I am chief) every three-dimensional object has an invisible hook. Attached to the hook is the memory of a person, place or event. Ditch the item and the memory disappears with it.

But, here comes The Big But.
My son and highly organized, uncluttered daughter-in-law invited me to see their newly remodeled basement playroom. Along one wall, an army of plastic bins sat on rows of shelves and on each bin a label was plastered and on each label was written, in my daughter-in-law’s neat penmanship, the contents. It all looked neat. And clean, and spacious, and pleasant.

A strange desire kindled in my heart. A desire for less stuff and more space.
Before the tiny flame could die, I flew home to begin my journey to unclutter.

Where to begin? Start small, Anita.

With this Avon tin.

2020-01-15 08.11.08
This over-half-a-century old container that used to be filled with “Lady Skater” talc.
It has that invisible hook on the side.
Attached there is the memory of my little brother and sister, who’d saved their pennies and bought it for me as a Christmas gift.
THAT memory is linked via a long chain to the one wrapped around my entire childhood—we were only a few pebbles removed from dirt poor. My dad felt called to teach in small, struggling Christian schools. Mom worked every possible job to keep us from bankruptcy and there weren’t a whole lot of toys, trinkets, floo-floobers or tar-tinkers.


The two littles in our family

So when a gift from the two littles in our family showed up under the tree one Christmas, I was charmed and delighted and smelled like Sweet Honesty powder for a solid year.
About a decade ago I showed the tin to my sister, thinking she—also a sentimentalist—would be impressed I’d kept it. But she had no memory of giving it to me. Therefore she saw no hook, and was aghast I still had it.

Filled with zeal and a desire to be trendy, I hauled the tin out of the ‘miscellaneous” Christmas bin. That’s where I keep all the decorations I don’t set out but can’t throw away. They either have memories hooked to them, or show great potential for the hypothetical craft project of my dreams.
I held the tin before me and set my face like flint toward the garbage, trying to disentangle the joyful memory from the hook as I walked.

You know where this story is going, don’t you?

Whether by accident or subconscious intention, I took the path leading past my Dickens-style Christmas decorations.
Newton’s first law kicked in and the body in motion (me) was compelled to change her action (dumping a precious-memory holder) by an external force (the gladsome comprehension that Avon’s little Currier and Ives tin would look perfect tucked into a corner by the cricket on the hearth and the Christmas Carol carolers.)


See my Dickens shelf? Carolers, the Cricket on the Hearth and the Goose getting fat? The shelf below has a Norman Rockwell Dicken’s print next to Samantha, who is only slightly anachronistic in the display.

The tin has moved from “miscellaneous” to the “Dickens” bin, waiting—Lord willing—to join Christmas festivities 2020. Come 2021 we’ll revisit the Avon Lady Skater and see if she still makes me happy.

An epic failure to be one of the cool, decluttered in-crowd. But I comfort myself with this:
By keeping those memories hooked on tangible objects, my brain stays more organized and less cluttered. What could possibly bring more joy?

Memory Gloss


Yesterday, September 11, “Never Forget” was all over my newsfeed. It heartened me—all these friends unwilling to let the unthinkable act of terrorism fade from memory.

Remember where you were when you heard? How about the days after? When a man could run down the Bishop Ford Freeway in Chicago waving an American flag and NO ONE WAS OFFENDED? People honked and cried and cheered.

Remember how everyone brushed off the Pledge of Allegiance and our trinity of patriotic songs and actually vocalized them? “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” could—I swear—be heard from outer space. We were busy joining ranks. No energy left to fight with each other for those few intoxicatingly heartbreaking days. We were all just Americans watching out for each other.

How about that Hurricane Harvey? Did you watch coverage of the rescues? The response during and after the hurricane is already legendary. Scenes of people of all ages and ethnicities and incomes and beliefs helping others of all ages and ethnicities and so on. Who is going to argue about statues and checking immigration status while outrunning flood waters?

Hurricane Irma and the wildfires in the west slapped us upside the head. All our technology is just a literal spitting into the wind So we joined with and enjoined each other to prayer, for loved ones in the path of devastation and for hundreds of thousands of strangers. We prayed fervently because a crisis reminds us we’re all family and we all rely on Someone who controls the winds and the flames. To my knowledge no one has yet been censured for encouraging prayers in these calamities.

Why do our minds gouge the moments of disaster so clearly in our memories but gloss over the selfless fellowship and unity that result? For a few brief hours after 9/11 it seemed we were able to lay differences aside and find common ground. Maybe it could last. But no. America has blurred the brotherhood and the last 16 years have mounted division upon hatred upon finger-pointing upon discord. We blame the current president, the past several presidents, the electoral college or the liberals or the conservatives. Oh, and we blame the “other side.” The one that doesn’t stand for the stuff we stand for.

Beautiful things happened while Harvey raged. But what happens when the water recedes? Buildings will be cleaned out and the rescuers will take their boats home. Eventually the hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic will be old news and those crazed wildfires finally die out. You know what scares me almost as badly as the natural disasters? That those panic glasses—the ones we put on to see past ethnicity and politics and our own hubris—will come off. The prayers will dry up and once again we’ll see each other in the cold harsh light of self-righteous judgement.

What disaster will get Americans to quit digging around in other Americans for something to dislike—skin tone, religion, party affiliation, economic status, lineage, stance on various issues? Why can we remember where we were when we heard about the attacks of 9/11 but can’t remember how much we loved and needed each other in those frightening days? Why will we remember the beauty of those flood rescues but forget that the language of compassion should drown out the differences in our native tongues? Why were we so aware of our UNITED States then and so forgetful of what unites us now?

Pray God we take the mental equivalent of fish oil or whatever improves our memory, Pray our total recall isn’t limited to the catastrophe itself. Let’s rub off the gloss that obscures the heartfelt political/religious/color blindness we experienced for a brief time. We don’t want another tragedy to help us remember.