Loco Parentis: A Clean Sweep

My dining room’s full of instruments (a tuba!) my ex-musician husband no longer plays. The kids’ old Legos and science projects and other junk is strewn everywhere. Why not just get rid of it all?

IT WAS TOUCH-AND-GO, but my son got into college. Everybody says this was a good year to be a boy, what with schools struggling to keep their male/female ratios at 50/50 even though many more young women than men are applying. So as of late August, Jake will be a freshman at Hamleyherst, in New England, and I’ll have three straight months of not having to move his sneakers out of the middle of the living room floor before Thanksgiving arrives. I’ll also have the opportunity, at long last, to have a grown-up home.

I have a fairly severe personal aesthetic. I don’t wear ruffles or floral prints; my taste in clothing runs toward black and brown. I don’t go in for froufrou in home decor, either: no scented candles, no “window treatments” (blech!), no bowls of potpourri. I can’t stand clutter, detest knickknacks, flinch at the word “collectibles.” And yet my house is crammed, nigh overwhelmed, with junk. This is because I have kids.

When you have kids, and their aunt gives them, when they’re very small, carve-your-own gargoyle kits, and they carve those gargoyles, and you proudly set the results atop the bookcase in the living room, you really have no idea that they’ll be there for the next 20 years. Same with the bottles of colored sand from the county fair, and the soccer trophies, and the piece of driftwood that looks like a dragon that they picked up in Nags Head. Your kids are the most important things in your life, and what matters to them matters to you, and this is why your house looks like shit.

It’s not like I’ve never thrown anything out. When the kids were small, I had a system. When the Happy Meal toys and birthday-party grab-bag dreck threatened to overwhelm, I’d stuff a bunch of it in a box and put the box in the basement. If, over the course of the next three months, no one said, “Hey, where’s my Toy Ty Teenie Beanie Babies Pinchers the Lobster?,” out it went. While this has kept us from tumbling over completely into Hoarders territory, it’s made further gleaning dicey; what’s left now is pretty fraught with sentiment for somebody. If I ask Jake, “Do you mind if I throw out your Pokémon card collection?,” he gets a wistful expression on his face and asks, “Do you have to?” Well, no — I don’t have to. “Okay then, don’t,” he says cheerily.

But now he’s off to college! Time to put away childish things! My hands tremble with anticipation as I flick my feather duster over the flotsam and jetsam: Won’t be long now … Of course, his sister Marcy will be a college senior this fall, and I still haven’t purged the house of her ephemera. When she comes home for the summer, does she even notice the nesting dolls she and Jake painted back in 1995? If they disappeared, would she remark their absence? Would she feel she was being purged?