Alaska finally seems to be getting the winter it deserves, which is full of snow and cold. Also, it’s full of a white, frosted beauty that only real Alaskans seem to be able to appreciate. So after way too many years of waiting for winter to happen, I finally had the one that eliminated any excuses for not cleaning out my closets and garage.
I must say, it was revealing. I have apparently not done this since moving down from Barrow. That would explain the 30-year-old backpack tossed into the top of my closet. Or the twenty-five mug warmers that celebrated Kivgiqs over the years. Or, and this is perhaps the most puzzling of all, the headset I used when hosting my Saturday morning public radio show in Barrow, Discount Radio. (Motto: You get what you pay for and I’m a volunteer.)
Perhaps I thought someday our Anchorage public broadcasting facility would run out of twenty-year-old headsets and mine would save the day. Or they would run out of radio personalities and pick me to host a show because I already had my own headset. Not really sure what the reasoning was. But there they were, wrapped carefully so as to be immediately available in case of a radio emergency.
Going through your closets is like taking a trip into another reality. You often find things that simply puzzle you. I can’t tell you how many electronic thingamajigs I found which neither I, nor the nice young men assisting me, could identify. I’m sure I thought at some point these would save me in a computer emergency much like the headphones would in a radio emergency. This would, of course, have depended on electronics not moving forward even an iota from the time I stashed these cords and plugs to the time I found them again. I actually had a box labeled, “Computer stuff I’m afraid to throw out.”
There were lots and lots of newspaper clippings. Some made sense; some not so much. I understand keeping the clippings that carry my columns or an obit of a friend or a story about my old hometown. But some clippings had absolutely nothing familiar. I didn’t recognize any names, any articles, any pictures. Yet there they were in my closet, carefully and neatly folded under a pile of old tax papers.
Yes, I not only kept my tax returns on the off chance that the government might come back fifteen years later and demand I show them the receipt from Bird TLC for my charitable deduction, but I kept every bloody piece of paper – used or not – that I sent to my accountant. I realize now this is silly. So I only kept the past five years and very reluctantly let go of the rest. Now I go to bed in fear that Orangeman’s jack booted thugs will be pounding on my front door at 3 AM requiring me to show proof that I donated meal worms to Bird TLC in 2003.
Digging down further, I found those gifts we all receive that we don’t want to throw out but don’t quite know what to do with: the t-shirt that doesn’t fit; the hat with the “funny” saying that we’d never wear outside; that bird “thing” that we never really understood. I was forced to make a decision about how long I should keep gifts before tossing them without feeling guilty. Turns out, ten years is my limit.
I remember my mom doing this when she was about my age. She cleared out the closets and got rid of all kinds of stuff so when she died, we wouldn’t have to bother with it. At least, that’s the excuse she used. In reality, she managed to fill up every closet she emptied with more clothes. While getting rid of our childhood mementos, she managed to keep her maternity clothes from the 1950s. Perhaps she’d read too much Erma Bombeck who swore that the minute you got rid of your maternity clothes, god saw to it you got pregnant again. Given that my mother was over 80 when she died, I don’t think that was a realistic possibility but I guess she figured better safe than sorry.
And what’s my excuse, aside from a snow day, for suddenly finding the time and energy to attack every closet in my house and garage? It kept me from being anywhere near a radio or TV on January 20th. So in my head, that Friday never happened. It’s the way I’m coping.