Every spring, I embark on a cleaning binge, clearing my house of the detritus of daily life accumulated over the winter months. This year I decided to tackle the attic too. While the third-floor storage space holds a few boxes of my own household discards (flannel sheets are not needed post-menopause), most of the “stuff” in the 40 or so plastic containers belongs to my three adult children. I realized that my home had become—as a British company dubbed it—“the warehouse of mum and dad.”
After a survey of 2,000 Britons about their storage habits, British insurer LV estimates that parents are holding onto more than £2.4 billion worth of “stuff” too treasured to be tossed but not valued enough for the “kids” to cart to their own homes. More than 22 percent of parents store items for friends and family, and more than half of that number are running a storage facility of sorts for their adult children. Many parents noted that the “kids” were well into their late twenties and early thirties before they removed the last of possessions from the family home. Topping the list of stored items are clothing, school books, souvenirs, jewelry, sports equipment, musical instruments and old photos.
I can commiserate with my British contemporaries. My two adult sons are both gainfully employed with nice living quarters. Several times a year I ask them to clean out their stuff. The response: “Why?” Their reasoning: I have the room so can’t they just leave it there until they have some mythical “free time?” Indeed, when one son recently moved to a new apartment he came out to suburbia with a carful of shirts, shoes, beach towels, lacrosse sticks, and ski equipment. Could I just hold it until he had time to sort through and decide which to donate, to keep and to toss? That was six months ago!
A few weeks ago, having a vague idea of the task before me, I climbed the pull-down ladder into my attic armed with super heavy duty “contractor” plastic bags. You could discard a large body in these bags and they won’t break. I was like a woman possessed as I attacked my sons’ containers. Out went textbooks—from calculus to physics to Spanish (as well as an impressive number of study guides for said subjects). Out went sheets twin extra long, sports trophies from lacrosse, baseball, basketball and football, athletic gear from four different schools, wrestling magazines and plastic figures, and Mets’ yearbooks for the last 25 years. I threw them out with confidence knowing the lackluster Mets were not likely to produce any valuable memorabilia. But the three cartoons of baseballs cards were questionable. Suppose buried there was a rookie card now worth hundreds? Those boxes stayed as did a second room full of toys and dolls. I was not ready emotionally to sort through Barbie dolls, American Girl paraphernalia, Lego’s and Tonka trucks.
There weren’t too many boxes belonging to my daughter, a college student, because she commandeered the closets in her brothers’ old rooms. Still shoes, boots, and assorted clothes that she would never wear again were piled up. Sweating, I filled three bags more bags. By now the pile at the bottom of the stairs was mounting so high that I was going to have trouble climbing down out of the attic. So, in what my daughter later aptly described as a “white trash” move, I opened the attic window and tossed two bags down to my driveway. It felt good—like a spiritual cleansing–just tossing stuff out the window.
I decided to “top off” the third bag and ten minutes later went to toss it when I heard someone yelling, “Are you okay?” I poked my head out the window and looked down two stories. A police officer! He asked my name and satisfied I was the homeowner told me that a neighbor had called thinking my house was being burglarized! “No, I am cleaning the attic, and was trying to save some time. Sorry officer,” I shouted. He just shook his head and walked away. On that note I decided to call it a day.
There are still a dozens of boxes up in the attic that belong to my sons. I’ll nag them but the reality is that the “warehouse of mum and dad” will likely stay in business until my 2012 spring cleaning. I just won’t throw any bags out the windows next time.