When Smilin' Vic and I hooked up about a decade ago, two households of odds and ends converged.
Granted, by the time we met we'd both significantly downsized as a result of the door slamming us on the proverbial tush as we beat a hasty retreat from previous unions gone wrong.
But like most working professionals, we each came with a token sofa set, television, dinette, and bedroom set (mine was actually a simple mattress set square on the floor, but I digress ...).
And though each of us had gotten rid of most of the toasters and serving platters gifted to us in long-forgotten celebration of wedding days past, we still had a shitload of stuff.
We both naively considered ourselves minimalists at the time. Looking back, we were 'anything but', having doubled up on the bare essentials (including Stephen King collections), throwing in a favourite Venezuelan sculpture from my dad, a memento from Smilin' Vic's days in the Golan Heights, my plastic bins full of photo albums, his insane collection of Doc Martins and my Christmas decorations ... Well, let's just say our union quickly transformed a little 900 sq ft house into an overflowing bastion of eclecticism (aka ''crap'').
When Kiddo came along and we added in a high chair, crib and all the other baby care bits and bobs, the walls and windows to our little abode started to stretch and bubble outward just a bit. Every square inch of house was occupied; the basement was screaming to be freed of the crap I'd never unpacked. I avoided going down there like the plague.
The decision to move to Qatar was the catalyst for a massive purge. We used it as an excuse to get rid of most everything we had, virtually everything. We kept only the bare minimum and a few cherished and sentimental items.
We held a yard sale and watched random people walk away with random stuff that had been hidden away in boxes, site unseen, for years; happy customers grabbing up $500 worth of crystal for the bargain basement price of $10 CAD. We didn't care. We were happy to see it go. Even though it sometimes stung to see some really classic items get carted away ...
- The 1970's Farah Fawcett poster and mass-produced James Dean and Marilyn Monroe prints - GONE.
- The duplicate cutlery, corn cob holders, rusty vegetable peelers, mismatched forks, dull knives, battery-operated rotating fork (?), 15 tea infusers and still-in-it's-wrapper super practical egg-slicer - GONE.
- The jeans from grade 9 that might one day fit again if I hit the gym hard, avoided any foods containing calories, and simultaneously suffered a 9-month bout of diarrhoea - GONE.
- The feline travel kennel that would have been really useful had we actually had a cat - GONE.
- The really cute Precious Moments wedding cake topper ... from a previous marriage - GONE.
What we didn't sell, we donated. Books, bedding, winter clothing, furniture. It was liberating; it felt like we were finally putting our respective pasts fully behind us and starting off fresh.
We put a few big ticket items and mementos we just couldn't part with into storage and came to Qatar with nothing more than a box full of Kiddo's toys, a bin full of Christmas decorations, our photo albums, summer clothes, and an outdoor firepit table set (in the hopes of replicating our Canadian ''view on the lake'' vibe in Qatar). That. Was. It.
We committed to a minimalist approach on arrival in Doha. We bought utilitarian furniture, set up few if any decorations, adorned our walls with a couple of framed family photos. We didn't need anything more. We were only here for three years anyhow. We weren't settling in. The approach served us well. Kiddo was going through her toddler years - too many curios would have probably been slobbered on, blocked the toilet, been knocked over or broken. Plus, we moved three times in our first year here. A lot of crap would have made those moves hell.
When we decided to stay a few years more, we moved houses again. We were surprised that despite our best efforts, we'd accumulated quite a bit more crap than we thought. Surely the movers were only packing a single item per box; there was NO WAY we had so much stuff. No matter; we were moving to a bigger house, one that had more rooms than we had people. No worries. We unpacked everything; any random things with no dedicated purpose were stacked in ''the office''.
That was four years ago. At about that time, a colleague of mine who'd been an expat for many, many years told me that he made it a point to always make his house his home, no matter where he was in the world. No matter for how long. He had two dogs, he had chickens in a coop in the back yard, he had framed artwork on his walls. He had furniture and odds and ends that he'd collected along his travels. He didn't consider his stuff crap, but neither did he cherish it. He simply said it was a physical manifestation of the places he and his family had been, and of the ''life'' they'd accumulated along the way.
I think it was around that time that Smilin' Vic and I decided to get a kitten. We liked that thought, the one about actually making our house more like a home. Which led to getting a few prints framed and hung on the walls. And to buying the LeCreuset pots which I'd always wanted and that could easily be shipped back home one day. And to buy the sandalwood bar. And to ship over from Canada those special pieces we'd left behind, like the cabinet my Dad made Kiddo and on which my LeCreuset pots now sit on display.
And I continued to collect more ''stuff''. Artwork from Kiddo's pre-school. Her cutest baby clothes. Stuffed animals. Ticket stubs from her first cross-Atlantic flight. Pictures from her first train ride. A map from Tuscany. Her first grade project. 32 clay blobs from art class. Valentines from Grade 1 classmates. DVD's of a piano recital, a ballet recital, a school concert. Halloween costumes. Tax papers. Warrantees. Cables ... to what, I still don't know. Laptops that barely bleep. A printer that no longer works. Telephones (of the ''not cordless'' kind). Christmas cards. Birthday cards. Letters. Business cards.
All of these things were stashed away in ''the office''. And despite the happy transition from 'house' to 'home, slowly 'the office'' had started to resemble the basement back in Canada. I didn't want to approach it. I avoided it at all cost. Every time I went near the door, I found an excuse to back away. I'd go in on the rare occasion to drop a few random papers and bills into ''the drawer'' and then beat a hasty retreat.
Three weeks ago, I finally worked up the courage to tackle ''the office'', to tackle the crap that was supposedly making my house a home. Yes, somehow the crap came back. Slowly, surreptitiously, it had wound its way back into our lives, filling ''the office'' to overflowing, preying on my mind. I'd gone at it before, sporadically, in bite-sized chunks. But this time, I was determined. I wouldn't stop until I was done.
I tackled the toughest bit first. Kiddo's stuff. The witch she made for Halloween in pre-K. The paper plate pumpkin. The paper turkey for Thanksgiving, the Christmas poster she and I made for her kindergarten class. The thousand ''I love you Mama and Papa'' scribblings she drew from pre-K to Grade 2. The gazillion ''abstracts'' she drew as a 3-year-old. The posters I'd lovingly drawn for each of her birthdays. The clay blobs from art class.
I gave myself guidelines. A maximum of two sleeve binders for each year of school. Keep anything that shows her teacher recognising how awesome she is. Keep awards. Keep hand-written notes. Keep report cards and certificates. Keep anything that has her handprints on it. Keep anything that I look at that reminds me of a moment. Keep anything that shows a happy, smiling family. Keep anything that is weird or truly remarkable or laugh-out-loud funny. Keep her first pasta-glue chef d'oeuvre. Ditch anything that is traced, copied, undated, unremarkable, dot-to-dot, full of annoying glitter.
The result? Kiddo's pre-school, pre-K, Kindergarten and Grades 1-4 memories have been whittled down to one single plastic bin. It took me a full two weeks.
Sometimes I wanted to cry as I threw away a tangible piece of her past, of our past. I took pictures of some of the things I was discarding. Sometimes it was nothing more than a squiggle on a page, but I couldn't help but remember ''little her'' in every single thing I threw out.
- Her, with those chubby 2-year-old fingers wrapped around a big fat Crayola crayon ...
- Her, proudly showing me squiggles on a page at the age of three.
- Her, proudly showing me the shapes she'd cut in pre-school.
- Her, telling me about the different colours on the page ...
- Her ... and all those hours she'd spent colouring, and shaping, and thinking, and imagining, and dreaming, and being.
- Her ... and all those thoughts jumbling and bouncing around in her 4-year-old head, forming and shaping into something she couldn't quite yet express in words, but almost ...
- Her ...
- Little Her ...
- Her ...
That purge nearly killed me.
But I came away from it knowing that what's left is the very best. And I realised that the stuff in the box truly is nothing more than stuff in the box. If you don't take it out, dust it off and sort through it once in a while, you forget what's in there and it turns to crap.
I'm hopeful I came away with a good cross-section of the good and the bad, the funny and the sad, the bizarre, the artistic, the introspective, the selfish, the amazing, the ordinary. I hope that one day Kiddo will look through what I've kept, in sleeve binders and upon my sleeve, and she'll get a glimpse into what a truly amazing and funny and fun little being she was and is.
Tackling that bit made it easy to take on the rest. Cables to unknown electronic devices, 20-odd USB keys, old electronics that no longer work, out-of-date maps, dated lesson plans ... it was easy to scrap them. Having sorted my way through the best, discarding the true crap was a breeze.
In the end? Six large garbage bags of crap collected and gone. From ONE room.
The crap comes back. Literally and figuratively. Every once in a while you just have to purge. Let go of the stuff you don't really remember, or understand, or like, or want, or need, so you can appreciate and keep only those things that really matter. That weird, happy, remarkable, laugh-out-loud, memorable crazy shit that you can pull out on a rainy day. That stuff that will remind you of who you are, of what matters, of what made a difference.
And that other stuff? The crap that's nagging at you?
Just bin it.
It'll only hurt for a bit.