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Kathy Tofflemire, Published August 24 2010

Parenting Perspectives: Clearing clutter a battle

I only watch two reality-TV shows with regularity: “The Biggest Loser” because it makes me feel thin (until the final weeks) and “Hoarders,” which makes me feel like a better housekeeper.

I don’t mean to be flippant. I know that true hoarders have a psychological illness that can make the most mundane items too meaningful to discard.

But I hate housework. And I think it’s hereditary. My mother disliked it, too. She much preferred to sew or read or do crossword puzzles. My daughter isn’t fond of it, either, but she’s done a better job than I have overcoming her “inheritance.”

When she was a child, if I began to clean in earnest, she would ask me who was coming to visit. It always took guests to make me really chase down those dust bunnies that had become the size of Buicks.

Each time I get my condo spick-and-span, I vow to keep it that way. That solemn promise always goes the way of my New Year’s resolutions. Come to think of it, that usually is one of my New Year’s resolutions.

My parents weren’t hoarders. You could easily maneuver through the main living space of their home. But having lived through the Depression and World War II rationing, they tended to keep things that might be useful at some later date.

Some years before my father died and my mother went to live in a nursing home, I began the task of cleaning out their attic. I figured it was never too soon to begin clearing out the house they had occupied for 50-plus years.

I found empty boxes inside of empty boxes. I found zippers and buttons that my mother had carefully removed from clothing over the years. I found my father’s 40-year-old Navy uniform and my brothers’ Army fatigues.

And I proudly announced to my mother that I had ultimately discovered something in the attic that I had never seen before: an empty corner. I’m not sure she was amused.

I would haul things out to the curb for trash pickup, and my parents’ part-time caregiver told me that each time, after I left, my father would go out to make sure I hadn’t thrown away anything important, like a couple of dozen empty margarine containers.

After my father died, my brother and I began the task of de-cluttering the basement.

My father was the kind of guy who would create gadgets and gizmos for various tasks, and my brother and I delighted in finding them among the traditional tool bench paraphernalia. We would look at the items and ask each other, “Now what do you suppose that was for?”

I’m afraid my brother followed my parents down the path of, shall we say, keeping stuff.

The only thing that’s probably saved me from a similar fate: I move every few years.

Kathy Tofflemire is a copy editor at The Forum. Readers can reach her at (701) 241-5514 or ktofflemire@forumcomm.com