Welcome back to my little Blogville. Today I am enjoying a ginger tea with a wedge of lemon, what is your tea of choice?
Special note: Before you begin reading this blog I want to you to take note that I am not referring to Hoarding Disorders (HD) as defined in the DSM-5. That is a condition that should be diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals.
What I will be talking about is the concept of ‘Decluttering’. Unlike most people I know, the need to declutter our lives literally baffles me. I can’t be the only person who asks why? “It’s just stuff”, they say, “they are just things” they tell me, “they don’t matter…”
When I explore my reaction to the concept of decluttering, I wonder if my response is impacted by being an adopted person. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, I was a person without a birth family history. Until I found and met my birth father and his children (when I was around 32 years old), and until I met my maternal birth half-sisters (when I was about 59 years old), my history was confined to the contents of an 8 1/2 X 11 inch business envelope and a clear bag containing the clothes I was was wearing when I was delivered to my parents at 9 months of age. When I was a child I remember asking my mom how come those clothes looked so sad and she responded with, “Oh honey, they keep the good clothes for the next foster children because they know adoptive parents can buy nice things.” My child mind processed that to mean, “Your foster parents did not buy you anything, everything you had when you were there was used.” I was 62 years old when I finally found out that I did get new clothes as needed, as well as gifts (actual new things) for my first Christmas in my foster home; something I had always wondered about.
I acknowledge that those little baby shoes collecting dust on my bookshelf are not important every day, nor do they impact on my daily life. But when I pick them up intending to discard them I am flooded with memories of the little baby feet that they once protected, and the first steps that they once supported…if I throw them out, what will inspire those memories?
Those aren’t just baby shoes, they are mini transporters that turn me into a time traveller. As soon as I touch them I am transported back in time. I can hear her giggle, I can see her little feet, I can even see my young hands tying up the laces. If the shoes are gone, what will make me think of those moments?
“Throw it out mom, I don’t want that junk anymore.” That junk!The book we waited in line for at 6 a.m. so you could be the first to buy and read it. That Lego set that lit up your little face on your birthday just when you had given up all hope that it might be one of your gifts. . . junk? Throw it out mom, its just junk, that toy you HAD to have, life or death . . .“ppppuuuuulllleeeeaaaaassssseeeee mom!”
When all of my children moved out what if I HAD thrown out all those toys? When that baby grandchild came to visit what would have inspired that giggle as they reached out for that indestructible telephone, or stacking toy, giggling just like the baby, my baby/their parent had done while playing with that same toy. Chubby hands placing the farm animals just so, sitting on the floor with the parent whose now strong and capable hands once placed the farm animals the same way. Why does this not matter?
I believe that grandparents keep special toys to inspire in their adult children, now parents themselves, the same joy they felt. The next thing you know your adult child is making the cow moo, helping their baby to stack the next ring, and reverting back to play, leaving the adult stressors aside for just a moment. Now that grandparents have time to sit back and watch, it is a special moment when the child of your child plays with those old toys, that junk.
I need these mini time machines to help jog my memory now that I am at an age where every day feels the same. I love being transported back to the special moments that I spontaneously relive when my memory is jogged by photographs, certain smells, conversations, and that ‘junk’.
I can be transported to a time when I mattered as my parents’ daughter, my brother’s sister, my friends’ friend as I was growing up. I am reminded of those times when I look at faces in old photographs, or when I open my mother’s cedar chest and look at my first mittens, or some art projects, or the ‘used’ outfit I was wearing when my social worker delivered me to my parents. When I open that cedar chest, I can smell my childhood.
I mattered as a young woman making a life of my own. I remember this when I look at my husband’s pressed boutonniere from our wedding day, or when sipping wine from glasses that transport me to a warm sunny day on our honeymoon when we watched a young artist etch our names onto them. I mattered to employers in those first jobs. They trusted me to do my best and I trusted them to let me learn, to teach me. I know I mattered when I look at my resumé and the attached letters of recommendation.
I mattered as a young wife and mother, in the days when I looked down and my hands were young. I was once someone’s whole universe, the most important human being in the life of another human being. I know I mattered when I look at my poorly crafted-more-beautiful-than-anything-else-in-the-world special occasion (popsicle stick picture frame, pot holder, candy dish…) gifts. When I touch those gifts I am immediately transported back to looking at the pride on my child’s face as they handed it to me.
I think my father-in-law started to understand this just before he passed away. When he retired he started a project. He began taking the family vacation photos and other family adventure photos and trimming them into collages. I now feel that he was doing two things. First, he was reliving these events as he went through hundreds of photos. Second, consciously or unconsciously, I feel he began to understand the old adage about the journey not being as important as who you take the journey with. He was cutting away much of the scenery and focusing on the people with him, because their expressions became the most important memory for him. (This is a “decluttering” I understand lol.)
When I met my birth father’s adult children, two of my (then quite young) new nieces presented me with home crafted gifts, a book mark and a popsicle-stick keepsake box. (These items actually appear in one of the instagram posts promoting this blog.) When I look at these gifts, I am reminded of those children expressing such unconditional acceptance of a new person in their world. How do I chuck those?
I have a box that I keep the things my birth father sent me in. He would send me letters, postcards, and even the odd book. The greatest gift he sent me was in the beginning when he sent a card, created like a birth announcement. It said, “Mr. Scott *** is delighted to announce the Discovery of his charming daughter, Lynn Deiulis. A sister for Leslie, Craig & Beth. In the card he included a tiny little cigar wrapped with a tiny pink ribbon bow on which he had handwritten “Its A Girl”.
I waited 32 years to begin learning about my birth roots. Is it too much to ask to keep this box when/if I “declutter”?
When my older maternal half-sister (Lynne) and I met our younger half-sisters we all brought each other little gifts, tokens to say hello. I feel like Lynne’s and mine meant, “nice to meet you” while theirs said, “welcome to the family”. An example of being welcomed is a tiny family tree with all six of our birthstones on it, and another was a gift of bracelets for each of us with our name and birth order number. They resembled the hospital baby bracelets of the past. We took a very neat photo of each of our hands/arms wearing these bracelets. I usually wear my bracelet when I’m making presentations as it reminds me that I represent many people when I talk about my adoption journey, and to be respectful as all of our journeys are different. One person’s clutter, I suppose.
When we met our maternal birth half sisters we all went together to meet their father. He is a lovely man, and judging by his daughters, was a good father. It was a very emotional meeting. But, in a gesture that makes me weep every time I remember it, our new sisters offered Lynne and I each a ring that had belonged to ‘our’ mother. Apparently, when she passed, there were six rings and the sisters had each chosen their favourites and put the other two away. I wear this gifted ring every day, right beside my family ring, where it also belongs. Cluttering up my hand.
My grandchildren call me, “Meemaw”. They give me great works of art for the coveted fridge spots. There are two refrigerators in our home. Sadly, I still only have so many fridge magnets, and so much room. My grandchildren notice when their works of art are moved by me but accept it when I tell them that even great works of art in museums are moved occasionally. Sometimes, my grandchildren secretly place their works of art over their cousins’ pieces. It does my heart proud the times when I see that the cousin noticed and did not say a thing. Though impossible to keep it all, there will always be cherished pieces. These works of art clutter up my heart.
I understand the need to get rid of 5 of your 6 roast pans, or 8 of your 10 sprinklers, but I cannot bring myself to get rid of what I call, “linked” items. These are the things that link me to my roles in life, a birth child, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, a friend, even a work colleague. I started my life without an attachment, and I know I will leave this life without those trinkets, but in the meantime I am very attached to the tiny time machines my clutter represents to me, and hope you understand me, and people like me, just a little bit better.
Thanks for reading!
(Whatever you do, don’t print this blog and clutter up any space with it!)
As always, I would love to hear from you. If you prefer to comment using a less public forum feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Deiulis' personal and professional journey sparked a passion to write a book that offers an opportunity for children to learn about how they came to be living together as a family or living with another family.