The Great Purge

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Our Saturday morning began just like any other. We didn’t sleep in, the kids dragged their feet, and we departed our home at approximately 9 a.m. to peruse the local farmer’s market.

To the outside eye, it may have even looked like we had it together. After all, I teach an environmental health research class, we drive a Subaru, and we pay each month for curbside recycling. An air of confidence swept over me: We are saving the Earth.

Only my husband decided – at that very moment of peace – to remind me of reality: there was a mildewed child’s mattress in our trunk that needed to be thrown away. The mission itself seemed simple enough until we saw – quite literally – the writing on the fence: “No household or bulk waste.”

A bit stunned, my husband and I looked from the sign to one another. What are we going to do with our trash?

To be honest, it’s a problem that has bothered me for some time. Consume, consume, and consume some more without a care as to the consequences. If you live in the United States, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And, parents, well, we get the worst of it.

New toys!

New big houses!

And new electronics – hey, they can be educational, too!

But the dark secret to the excess is this: You become your things.

Looking back, one of the happiest seasons for my husband and I was our year in California, where we learned to live in about 500 square feet of apartment. Think IKEA. Although we were able to store many of our possessions, our non-essentials had to go. And, truthfully, we needed the money.

One by one I sold wedding gift after wedding gift for a fraction of its worth. Every Craigslist ad, my heart knew, meant letting go of the items I thought we’d keep forever – the appliances, the furniture my children would never learn to use. 

But this amazing thing happened when we no longer had open space in our home: we stopped trying to fill our lives. We stopped buying books, we hung up artwork we already owned, and we ceased pursuing goods we knew we didn’t need.

And yet – despite all that contentment we found in living with less – we let our own “green” fairy tale slip away…somewhere between Child #1 and Child #2.

But just this last year, my husband and I had “the talk”. Where did our heart for sustainability go? To be honest, it had become hidden in all the junk that none of us ever really needed.

And so begins The Great Purge.

As for the mattress, I am relieved to report that we did find a dumpster that happily accepted our donation. But the yearning to lead a life of environmental stewardship remains. And, one day, when my children come to their own chain-link crossroads, I hope they never have to question if it was love or the stuff that mattered.

::today’s daily inspiration::

8 thoughts on “The Great Purge

  1. Nothing like accumulating two kids worth of junk to make you realize how much you don’t need! My wife and I want to buy a new house soon, and our goal is to take as little stuff with us as possible. And so we make our weekly trips to Goodwill…

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    1. What a dream – move and leave the stuff behind! In truth, I find it most difficult to part with the kids’ things over my own. Every item is a memory, a milestone. But that trip home from Goodwill – the release is tangible 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I understand accumulation of stuff I have lived in the same house for 30 years, the children grew up here and, now, one of them has returned with his wife and three teenagers. We went through closets, rooms, shelves etc. to throw away junk that no one wanted any longer, just to make room for the things they brought with them. While it is only for a couple of months (they are in transition-mode), the act of purging the second floor of the house was beneficial, indeed. Now to do the downstairs with full anticipation that Goodwill will, again, be the ultimate beneficiary of lots of stuff!!

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    1. Wow, thirty years! I can only imagine the treasures you have hidden all these years. To be honest, you have tapped into one of my great fears – that, one day, we will have lived somewhere so long (and will have accumulated so much in the process) that it is impossible to go through it all again. It sounds like your “Great Purge” has been quite a success! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I love your perspective!
    My 2 year exile in rural Iowa has taught me much about the thoughtlessness of mass consumerism. I’m an organic gardener, and I was so excited to till over large swaths of our ‘new’ 1/3 acre lot. We had a postage stamp sized yard when we lived inner-city, but I found unique ways to grow lots of food in such a small space.
    What I didn’t realize about gardening in the land of commercial cultivation, is that the ecosystem is entirely unbalanced. Blight hits, and it hits hard. Insects ravage all of my spring plantings. I have shed many a tear over my gardening losses the past three growing seasons. I rarely had an issue where we lived before. Everything I grow here seems to thrive at first, then abruptly curl up and die.
    I am to blame as much as anyone else is. Consumerism divorces us from the land, AND our selves. Now that I see clearly, I’m planning my escape, lol!

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    1. Fascinating thoughts and perspective – I guess that’s what life in monoculture land will do to you?! I can only imagine what your transition must have been like. We moved from Silicon Valley to the Dirty South, and, well, things have been interesting 🙂 It really hurt my heart to learn of your experiences. We discuss blight and ecosystem imbalance in the first-year writing classroom with consideration of Silent Spring, but, of course, it’s at an arm’s length. I’m sure to see it with your own eyes, especially when time and energy have been invested, is most difficult. Love your lens and look forward to reading more of your writing!

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    1. You bring up a very good point – an over-busy life leads to an over-filled home. This has definitely been the case in our home! When the fridge becomes overrun with rotten fruits and vegetables, I know things need to slow down. I guess, perhaps, the plastic, wooden, and metal household items don’t decay in our minds the same way. Simplify – such a beautiful, yet elusive concept. Certainly a goal for the future! Thank you for your insights.

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