What I Threw Out, When

It's amazing how much emotion is bound up with the stuff. One day I summarized in response to this common question, on a bulletin board:

When did you get rid of stuff?

  • His clothes -- I tossed most within a few weeks. He cherished his chinos, but I was sure this was the last thing he'd care about.
  • Clothes, the rest of them -- 2 years
  • The clothes he went to the hospital in, the last time -- just recently (I had hidden them).
  • Toiletries from in medicine chest -- 3 months.
  • Toiletries, rest of them -- 1.5 years
  • Jovan Musk -- stayed in cabinet for 2 years
  • Prescription opiates, hypodermics -- 2.5 years
  • Books -- I started to sell them after a few months, but then, he'd promised me he'd winnow them down already. I've done this slowly, emotionally, in tiers. At last, at 2.5 years, I can see them by their cash value (But I am writing down the names of all his books, preserving the information as part of his artwork/legacy).
  • Furniture of his that I never liked -- 2 years.
  • His car which didn't work at all but I was paying the insurance -- 2 years.
  • His art materials -- starting to, 2.5 years out.
  • Junk in the basement (unmarked toxic liquids, odd bits of wire) -- starting to, 2.5 years out.
  • His tools -- starting to, 2.5 years out. Amazing that he fancied himself handy at all. Look at this house! Argh!!!
  • His stuff in the attic -- god knows if I will do it even when we move.
  • His family photos -- trying to get the good ones scanned so I can throw them out. (40 or so oversize albums of his mother’s – she died two years after he did).
Most of the house looks the same, but there is a lot of unused stuff, boxes, things “on the way out.” Sorting takes me forever. I suppose trying to hang onto someone's spirit will encourage anyone's packrat tendencies, but in me those are strong to begin with. Gavin was neat, but he’s not here. I suppose it's partly my hostility. He'd be appalled at how much stuff I (excuse me? He!) saved. (Mr. Fresh is neat too, but doesn’t care much about stuff).

Each week when I was on leave I bring home half dozen office boxes and feel productive (the "library" still has a wall of filled labeled boxes). I deducted more than $1200 in $250 increments in each of 2006, 2007, and 2008.

The hospice social worker advised me to keep a t-shirt or something to remember his smell; I did but I can’t remember using it and tossed it at about a year.

As far as emotions, seeing his things around casually has been helpful for grieving and okay for my young child. However, I'm glad I took his voice off the answering machine (after about a week). I'm finally feeling ready to take his name off the phone bills so that I can appear on caller ID.

My situation may be a little unusual because he was an artist, and I will have a bunch of his artwork forever, for our daughter. Even better, 98% of it is in collections and loved all over town. This makes it easier to NOT treat his “sensitive” toothpaste as a “legacy,” but that crap did stay on the sink for a loooong time.

But basically -- seeing these objects categorized and written down reminds me that it's just stuff.

* * * Some comments * * *


J. said...

Oh boy. The sorting thing.
Himself was the packrat in our house, while I have an inner librarian who is screaming for classification and order. The clothes have been the easiest thing so far - if I love them, I wear them or cut them up to make things with. If not, out they go.
But what do you do with a collection of 'useful' pieces of wood'? Will I ever need useful wood? Who knows, so they are taking up most of the floor space in the garage, waiting to trip me up whenever I venture in.

Roads said...

Too funny. And funny can be a word to describe this, at least in the right company.

Among the things I retain, many years later, there's a lot of junk which will be winnowed out (some day, possibly 'tomorrow'). I think you're onto it already about the likelihood of kids wearing clothes from another decade when they grow up. Did she really wear this stuff? says my fourteen year old.

And then again, surprises happen -- in fact my son wore a waistcoat of hers when playing Billy Flynn in a scene from Chicago which his acting group put on just last weekend. So you never really know. The point is that the waistcoat was ust another of the potential stage props we have stored around the house.

Long ago, a counsellor had advised me to put some of her clothes into the dressing-up box for the kids. That was the ultimate irreverential approach, but it served us very well, and those items are still used by the 'new' seven year old today. They're just part of the 'old' family and the 'new' family going forwards and I think she'd be pleased about that. Perhaps the sentimentality goes a little, and you kind of focus on the utility, and I don't think that's such a bad thing at all.

A couple of other items have caused more difficulty, but at the risk of stereotyping, I think it might be a little different for a second partner who is a woman and cares about stuff to adapt than it might be for a Mr Fresh who doesn't.
Amongst the other stuff, I have a coffee cup from her work which I unearthed last year and now use in my new office (perhaps it feels more comfortable there than in the 'new' home life, but really I just like a big cup of coffee for my desk). And then there are a few other unlikely items which I never thought I'd use, but do. Certainly a bright pink and black fabric/velcro wallet wouldn't have featured high on any kind of sentimental list, and yet I love it since I can still spy it when I've dropped it down the back of the sofa or under the car seat. Which happens several times a week.

It's just too bad she didn't have a pink and black fabric/velcro key fob. That could save me five minutes, every single morning...

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

To ensure credit where it is due, Roads mentions my thoughts about saving his clothes for a child -- those ideas were from Snickollet -- who wrote a similar post (and a much warmer one) citing mine at

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes the keeping of the scents. I kept a bottle of N's favourite cologne for almost 3 years just so I could go back and take a sniff of it again, just to remember what he smelled like. Reading this brings back many memories.


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