Lake Norman & Mooresville

Don't blame the kids: Clutter was there first

Right now in our backyard, you may view one intact swing set, one partially dismantled swing set, one playhouse, one battery-powered ride-on toy, three kid-powered ride-on toys, one jump rope, one basketball, one basketball goal, three soccer balls, three water guns, a dog bowl, a rabbit hutch, a hammock stand, four cracked plastic chairs in a stack, one wrought-iron deck chair, one park bench and, ironically, a trash can.

Are we hoarders?

I don't mean to make light of a serious condition, but I can't help but wonder whether there's some midpoint between functional and "I can't find the front door," and whether we are at that point.

Never mind that I unconsciously hum the "Sanford and Son" theme anytime I go out back, or that my husband spends more time moving stuff out of the way before he cuts the grass than he takes to mow it.

The real problem is that the clutter is by no means limited to the backyard. It's the same way inside.

I could take the easy way out and blame the kids. After all, most of the stuff belongs to them.

Two things happen when you become a parent:

First, you have much less disposable income, leading to the reuse, or the salvaging of parts from, items you might otherwise have tossed.

For example, we have an extra clothes dryer in our garage. We could sell it, of course, but as soon as we do, the other one will quit, and we'll have to shell out for a new one. Unthinkable.

That mind-set also explains the two swing sets. My own mother, after 30-some years of parenting, has developed such an aversion to disposal that it's as if she no longer needs garbage pickup service.

That's an exaggeration, of course, but she did lay claim to our old swing set before we had a chance to haul it off. Unfortunately, she hasn't hauled it off, either. I wish she would.

The other thing that happens when you become a parent is that items that previously had no value suddenly become priceless.

The obvious example is the kids' artwork. I never would have saved random doodlings of small people until a few years ago. But when my daughter presents me with a stick-figure drawing of our family with all of our arms coming out the sides of our heads, there's no way I can put that in the trash.

Other items become useful, if not priceless. I never had a reason to save milk jug lids, of all things, until I found a craft project on FamilyFun.com and saved milk jug lids for six weeks straight.

(By the way, they made adorable, rainproof labels for the garden, which I will also keep forever.)

Not that milk jug lids take up that much space. It's just that, when I moved to this house and assigned storage, I did not designate a space for milk jug lids. Or for the soda bottles that may one day become terrariums. Or for the scourge known as Squinkies.

Everything that has no official home ends up on the counter, which, in parallel to my husband at the mower, must be cleared before dinner preparation can ensue.

But I can't really blame the kids. Before the toys, before the kids, it was my scrapbooking paraphernalia and the dozen or so novels I was reading simultaneously. It was Phil's humidor (ha!) and three months' worth of gas receipts.

I guess what bothers me most is that the kids are oblivious to it. They don't look at the back yard and instinctively hum tunes to 1970s TV shows, and they aren't bothered by the 15 Beyblades (don't ask) holding up dinner preparation.

I don't demand that they be fastidious, exactly, but I also don't want to see them on reality TV someday, frantic about parting with old candy wrappers or something.

Perhaps our only saving grace is that it's almost spring: yard sale season. We can put all our stuff out in the yard, price it reasonably and hope someone will take it away. Or, at least, that someone will notice a difference.

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