Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I am sitting in the living room of my apartment, surrounded by the precious debris that seems to immediately accumulate when I declare myself to be "at home." We are in the process of vacating a home for the third time in the last few years. Last time, we moved out of a Los Angeles apartment we had lived in for 12 years. Shortly before that, we had to vacate my childhood home, after my father died.

My father had lived in his home for the last 30 years of his life. For the second half of those 15 years, he lived there alone. That meant 15 years in which the house had never been thoroughly cleaned, and in which he was able to fully indulge his tendency to retain things. The greatest sin possible, in his eyes, was to discard something and need it later. The sheer bulk of the job was terrifying. We started out sorting, trying to figure out what to keep and what to discard. It soon became apparent that there was very, very little that was worth keeping. That not only applied within the house, but in general. Most things are replaceable. There is no need to confuse a home with a warehouse. I had never gotten rid of my childhood debris, it had all remained in my father's house. Over the years, while I had made various moves around the United States, additional items had accumulated there, while little had been removed. All the while, my father continued to accumulate things, filling every corner of the house. We found no fewer than eight George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machines in varying shapes, sizes, colors, and states of repair. Piles of papers lined the stairways, and not a room in the house had a free surface. And nearly all of it, more than 99 percent of it, was junk.

Trucks came to the house, and left filled with garbage. Still there was more. Dozens of trash bags went to the curb. We were scolded by the trashmen and by the town zoning enforcement agents. Still there was more. We held a giant sale, but the things persisted. We advertised the furniture, asking only that people come and pick it up, and the furniture went. But we never actually were able to get to the bottom of the mess. Finally, we declared victory and retreated, leaving most of the lower level of the house (the basement and the crawl space) as it was. When we sold it, we let the buyer know that they were getting the house with all the treasures. At the last minute they said they wanted a discount because of the things in the house. We refused, and they accepted the property as it was. It was just a negotiating ploy. They were knocking the whole building down anyway.

When we finished with the months of work my father's house required, we started rethinking our pack-rat habits. From our apartment, we began to remove things we were not using. Part of this was the pressure of space, of adapting our home to a growing boy. Part of it, though, was actually a lesson learned about keeping things, or perhaps better to say an acquired aversion. Still, it took months to dig out of our own home, and there was still a massive amount of work to be done before we left.

In Spain, we have not been here long enough to really get into trouble with having too many things. But there are enough to worry about. With less than three weeks to go before we leave, it will not be a terrible job to get finished here. But it will be work.


  1. I miss going to Paramus sometimes!

  2. I hate "stuff." I get an awful tight feeling from time to time because of all the stuff I've let into the house and I have to throw things away/donate items. Even with that, I feel like we're too heavy laden. I love what you 3 are doing. You're going to find out what you really need to live. I wonder how it will impact the way you live when you settle down again?

  3. Hopefully, we will be able to live simply, and teach Ricky that a life on his own terms with less stuff beats trading time for toys. Probably he'll grow up thinking he never got to keep his treasures, and be completely unable to throw anything away.
    All of us get used to things so quickly - whether it is a new shirt or a new computer or a new car or a new house. We're just built that way - and it's great when things suck, because we get used to that to. But I don't think that there is any lasting happiness in material items. I think they are all just distractions for the moment. But I think it is something that Ricky is going to have to work out for himself.

  4. I remember Paramus, the mall capital right? I remember meeting your dad at his house too. It was you guys, Kim, Loc, and myself. Your dad looked at us and he said all the continents are represented here. I remember how embarassed you looked Bryan.

    Luckily, I don't remember the clutter.

  5. I tried to crawl into a cabinet. He really had a knack for saying the right thing.