2010.12.08 Discover and decide: Letting go of old keepsakes

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Does it seem a little kooky that I love my kids but can’t stand their stuff? Every time my kids come home I try to get them to go through their accumulated life possessions and get rid of the junk. And, every visit there seems to be little, or no progress.

So, this Thanksgiving holiday, as early as the ride home from the airport on Wednesday night, I introduced them to the concept of “Discover and Decide” and told them I hoped they would play.

“Discover and Decide” is a “game” I invented a few days before they came home to make sorting through crap sound like more fun. It is the simplest of activities: discover all your old treasures and decide if you want to keep them.

I discovered they were more interested in the activity with its game name and decided to be happy if they devoted even a mere 15 minutes to the task while they were home.

On Friday, Ben asked when we would be playing “Discover and Decide.” I was supremely delighted that one child was hooked on the concept and quickly cajoled Rosie and Maddie into joining the expedition to expel their bedrooms of extraneous junk. Ben’s wife Sarah was assigned the role of Decider—anybody having trouble wrestling with whether to keep an item could consult her.

Hours and hours and lots of sneezing later, collectively they had accumulated eight grocery bags of garbage, seven bags of recycling, and about the equivalent amount in items destined for Goodwill...or use as gag gifts for the Green Family Christmas.

It was quite a haul of crap and exceeded my wildest dreams. But, it also caused me a bit of anxiety—I had been going through stuff with Rosie and Maddie and rescued lots of virtually new items that would make great prizes for library functions. What were Ben and Sarah tossing while I was working with Rosie and Maddie?

It was a control freak’s greatest nightmare. When I poked in to check on them and perused discards at the top of the bags, I spied penpal letters from kids Ben had met in Japan when he was part of the Lenawee Intermediate School District-Moriyma exchange program his freshman year in high school.

Although the use of English is ever-amusing, it’s the handwriting that stands out in those letters. So intricate, so clear, so beautiful. Some of those Japanese kids write English much better than any of us write our language.

As Garrison Keillor said last week on Prairie Home Companion while trying to read messages from audience members to the home audience, “Penmanship, people! Penmanship!”

Garrison would have no trouble reading the handwriting of those letters from Japan on air, although he might scratch his head a little: “Dear Ben, Hello! How are you? I began a guitar recently. The tune of the popular Japanese band bursts open to a certain extent...Are you playing the instrument of anything?”

How could Ben throw away stuff like that? I wondered. I had planned to haul all their discarded papers to the recycling center the next day, Saturday, but I was having my doubts about letting it go without further examination. Still, we carried all the bags down to the entryway, garbage on one side, recycling on the other.

And, there it all was when the Morenci police appeared at our door at 8:30 Saturday morning wanting to search the house and there it was when the FBI came at 2:30—and when they returned the next day to interview us once more about the missing Skelton boys.

It made me wish I had chucked it all Saturday morning—the recycling center was open and garbage pick up was a day late—perfect timing. But, after noticing a CD case at the top of one bag, opening a side pocket of it to find a dollar bill and two quarters, I knew my instincts were right.

It was easy to toss the dried-out plastic eye ball, the toy car that doesn’t go and the bright neon yellow highly stained wallet. And, although, the quantity of batteries taped together, wires, cords and a variety of other electrical stuff made me wonder why Ben didn’t become an electrical engineer, it wasn’t hard to part with it.

However, the loose sand and sea shells had to stay after I noticed the plastic bag it was in came from a store in Brazil. Wouldn’t Ben want that clean, soft, white sand some day to remind him of his trip to visit with exchange student Sergio Filho?

The box labeled “Model Stuff” filled with tiny jars of paint brought back memories of the model airplanes Ben used to build—and the tweezers tipped with black paint made me exclaim, “That’s why we could never find tweezers!” Obviously, Ben had been using them to hold small model parts while he painted them.

From all those bags, I saved not even a quarter of a bag—my kids know garbage when they see it. I just worry about the memories they’ve tossed.

And, they’ll probably worry about me when they see the item I love the best. It’s a little Burger King wind-up toy, some kind of monster character with a bird on its head, wings on its back and a crazed look on its face. When you wind it up, its arms just spin around and around, reminding me what a kooky world we live in.

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