By Jane Fishman
One thing leads to another. A stay-at-home order. Long days to reach the back of a closet. Time to hone on the real me, the minimalist. Forget that I have two houses, two cars, two computers, more jean jackets than I could ever wear.
Carmela and I start on the pantry. Four bags of forgotten flaxseed. We move to the freezer. Five pounds of shrimp. We pry open a drawer. Birth announcements of kids who are now teens. We’re discarding. We’re discovering. We feel good.
Then reality hits.
“Mom is a hoarder,” the stepdaughter says. “We know that. But you, Jane, you are a junior hoarder, you are a hoarder-in-training.”
Me? I wear the same thing every day. I have six pairs of shoes, one purse, three sweatshirts.
She ignores me. “What about all those sketchbooks, the two suitcases of T-shirts, the three shoeboxes of faded photographs, income tax statements from the aughts, as you like to say. You both have too much stuff. Don’t leave me with all that crap-o-la to go through.”
Point taken. Many of us have been down that route with parents who have passed on, where we spend days clearing out china cabinets, sorting through a dozen pair of leather gloves, wondering about all the costume jewelry. I got rid of most of it, I report. Except five of my mom’s vastly different styles of prescription eyeglasses, her six passports, her shell collection, her silver.
But what to do with it all? For a while the silver “went missing.” I couldn’t find it anywhere. Turns out that after I rented out my furnished house when I left town for a few years, I jammed it in an empty 50-pound bag of dog food that I stuffed in the pantry. No one would think to look there, I reasoned. Including me. Panic. Now we use it, as in every day. Oh, the sound of sterling compared to flatware! The weight of the cutlery!
To rent out the beach house in March, I threw a bunch of clothes into a large suitcase, deposited it in a locked room and forgot about it. After we moved back in for a stretch of time, I opened the suitcase, stared at the clothes and realized I hadn’t missed anything there. Nothing. What does that mean? Even before the lockdown, I tended to wear the same four pairs of jeans, three T-shirts, two long-sleeved black shirts, one dressy long-sleeved white shirt and three or four wraparound schmattas for walking the dogs, pulling weeds or heading to the beach. Undergarments as in bras? Forget about ‘em. I haven’t burned them or hung them on a statue in New Orleans’ Jackson Square, but I haven’t looked at them either.
How much stuff does one person need?
And yet we keep getting more – something on sale, a holiday gift, a birthday gift.
It’s not unusual to come home to find three large black plastic bags of clothes recycled from niece Sarah down the street who got them from an aunt with a shopping problem who doesn’t fit into anything anymore.
I’m weak. I end up taking a new long-sleeved black shirt, a University of Georgia sweatshirt, a roomy T-shirt. But what do I like best? The shirt with the frayed collar, the worn sleeve, the cut-out neck. They have the history, they tell the stories.
Still. Who has enough closet space?
I thought I might be on to something when I stopped on the beach to watch a huge freighter crawl down the Savannah River. It was heading for the Port of Savannah. The name on the side of the stacked 40-foot containers read in huge letters COSCO. Aha! I thought. Now that big-box behemoth multinational, the fifth largest retailer in the world, the chain everyone craves (“If only we had a Costco”) has its own freight company too. Wrong. COSCO stands for China Ocean Shipping Company. Its headquarters are in Beijing. It owns 1,114 ships and calls on over 1,000 ports worldwide. The store that would change people’s lives? That’s COSTCO.
Doesn’t matter. More junk. More plastic. More things. I thought we might get a grip during the pandemic. I thought there might be time for a correction. I even remembered the 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet. Nah. We’re not there yet. Between all the genius marketing, the algorithms, the advertiser “spies,” we, including me, continue, my friends, to be sold a cluttered bill of goods.
Jane Fishman’s got a great life in Savannah. She gets to grow garlic, write newspaper columns in the Savannah Morning News about any wacko she can find (and get paid for it), publish books (her latest: I’d Rather Be Seen Than Viewed, a collection of her columns; preceded by So What’s the Hurry? Tales From the Train ; I Grew it My Way, How Not to Garden; The Dirt on Jane; and The Woman Who Saved an Island, the Story of Sandy West and Ossabaw Island), listen in on conversations with her two grandchildren, Baker and Benny, while going on morning nature walks as they debate which is better, living in the country or the city (“I like both habitats,” says 7-year-old Benny). Fishman owned a laundromat in Eureka Springs, Ark., cooked in a French restaurant in Key West, won a bunch of journalism awards in Savannah for humorous and serious columns. When she lived in Chicago and worked at WTTW public television, she met Fran of Kukla, Fran and Ollie and watched Abbie Hoffman rant at the trial of the Chicago 7. Fishman grew up in Detroit (Huntington Woods, really), where she never owned a car. She was the sports editor of her high school newspaper (The Acorn) at Royal Oak Dondero. This is her first wedding.