The Chinese may have their Great Wall, but I have my Great-Purge-of-Unnecessary-and-or-No-Longer Wanted-Belongings. 

It is my own little New Year’s ritual – repeated for emphasis in June.  During the time allotted to this endeavor, my goal is basically to see, touch and evaluate the necessity of every single thing we own.  I pick up every item and ask myself the following questions:  Do we still need it?  Do we still want it?  If it is sitting around doing nothing, is there some good use we could put it to?  Would someone else use it/enjoy it/appreciate it more than we do?  Is there some better place to keep it if we are not going to heave it onto the ever-growing pile in the living room?

Much to their initial dismay but, I am confident, to their ultimate satisfaction, I drag the boys along on this version of a household New Year detox regimen.  We go in their closets, sort through every piece of clothing and they decide whether it a)still fits or b)if they still want it.  It is, quite literally, staggering how much gets tossed.  The pile of t-shirts alone could topple a medium-sized man.

I have never mourned a single posession that has left this house.  I love the
thought of them having whole
second life, without me

Many years ago someone gave the me the nicest possible gift – a really good idea about how to mark laundry so that it returns to its rightful owner.  In my household of three boys, Oldest gets one black dot on his clothes, Middle gets two black dots and Youngest gets three.  When the clothes marking tip was combined with the Great Purge, changes in ownership were a model of simplicity and grace.  Clothes that went down one family member, from, say Oldest to Middle, got an extra dot.  If a t-shirt leap-frogged from Oldest to Youngest, two dots were added.  Since the hand-me-down ladder only goes in one direction, this system was as close to perfect as one could get.  It was so perfect that for years it brought comfort to my psyche at levels that remain utterly mysterious to all the male members of my household.  But who cares?  However much they grumble, I challenge any of them to tell me that they don’t actually feel freer, better, clearer after a Great Purge.

Somewhere in the middle of all the chaos yesterday (on the off chance that you never picked this little tidbit up from Oprah or Martha, I am here to tell you that the key to successful reorganization is tolerating the fact that you have to create more chaos before you can create order) I realized, with,  maybe not horror, but certainly dismay, that my so-perfect system no longer applies.

It is as if the very laws of physics have reversed themselves because, well for one thing, the hand-me-down ladder is now running up.  This is because Middle is now larger than Oldest and both Oldest and Middle are now larger than their father.   What a mess.

Only Youngest, by the tiniest of margins, is sticking to the original plan.  He, rightly, is still smaller than both his brothers and his father.  But by the next Great Purge, scheduled to occur right before camp so that they can take clothes that they were going to throw away and ruin them at camp first, it will all be gone.  My three dot system, gone.  My three boys all in a neat little row, gone.

All these years, I have known that any order I felt was an illusion, that birth order means nothing, that it is not, really, better when the oldest is bigger than the middle, who is bigger than the youngest.  But I really loved that illusion.

Now my boys, all three, are moving inexorably, unstoppably, toward adulthood.

At least until I come up with another system.


One thought on “hand-me-downs

  1. Ooo, I love the purge. I am doing that in my own house right now. And happily, we get calls from Purple Heart or Amvets or Value Village nearly every week–nice people calling to haul away our no-longer-neededs.

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