Last weekend, when I was in Sydney, I went over to my parents’ house to collect a Christmas present that had been too big and heavy to transport back to Canberra on the bus*.
We all enjoyed a perfectly amiable seafood lunch, before I began to make excuses about getting on the road with my festive loot.
I was busily packing up the car when my dad tapped me on the shoulder.
I was about to tell him I didn’t need any help, thanks, when he cough-cleared his throat and lightly inquired if – while I was at it – I also felt like taking some of the stuff I had stored in the garage.
He pointed to what could only be described as a whole quarter of the garage that was a bulge with book boxes, two clarinets, a guitar with no strings, framed dolphin pictures, tea chests bearing worrying labels like “high school,” “trinkets” and “miscellaneous” and a queen-sized futon.
“I don’t want to hassle you,” Dad continued. “It’s just, I’d quite like to park the car in the garage sometimes.”
I have always felt so high horsed and smug whenever there are articles about how Gen Y kids are hopeless about moving out of home. And that if they do manage to leave by the time they turn 28, they boomerang right back.
(Cue: high horse) I’d moved out in my early 20s and the longest I’ve stayed since is a week during the Christmas of 2006. The fact that I hadn’t moved all my stuff out seemed a bit immaterial. I’d gone on to acquire other, more grown-up stuff that filled other very independent, non-parental homes.
Yet, here was a good two thirds of my life dominating a quarter of the garage of my parents’ place. (And not even a quarter of the garage of the family home. A quarter of the garage in the downsizer. )
So, in the heartfelt hope that I could perform a speedy “cull and remove,” and get back on that smug horse, I waded into the bulge. I reasoned that because I hadn’t seen this stuff for years, if not decades, I wouldn’t need it now. I’d save the guitar, bin the rest and be out of there in 20 minutes.
I ripped open one dusty box, carefully avoiding a couple of spiders and what looked suspiciously like mouse poops. Here, I was reunited with the t-shirt I wore to Little Athletics when I was seven and a back catalogue of birthday cards from the ages of five to 21 (when I turned eight, Kristiane W advised me not to get too excited lest my teeth “pip out”). Then came a year six project on penguins and the meagre yet mighty trophy I won as best and fairest player in the Warrawee Wildcats’ 14C netball team.
I turned to my Mum. “Isn’t this stuff great???” (subtext: awww, why don’t you want to keep it?)
But she wouldn’t play. “We’ve got family photos to remind us what you were like when you were little.”
So I waded on, through the (hilariously) illustrated book Mum gave me to explain puberty, university essays about neoliberalism that contained many spelling errors and did not make any sense, an extensive collection of novelty erasers, two pre Wi-Fi lap tops and my year twelve formal dress (sea green, floor length halter hell).
The urge to just bin/burn it all was present and accounted for. But so too was the sense that it might come in handy one day.
This week, Johnny Cash’s son told of how he had found an old, unreleased record of his father’s, purely because his parents “hardly threw anything out”. So you just never know.
And even if future relations don’t happen upon my 15-year-old poems about Keanu Reeves and release them as a work of undiscovered genius, there is still the thought that somewhere, the universe should be holding on to this stuff. Even if I don’t really want it right now.
I know I’m not alone here.
I have a friend who is always terrified when his parents drive instead of fly to visit from Adelaide. Last time they turned up with a trombone. Another friend’s mum got so fed up with her stuff that she just put it on the train to Canberra one day and rang to advise her of the arrival time.
When I speak to Karen Koedding, a certified professional organiser, she says she has had clients who are still storing the belongings of their 40-something children. Some parents are willing accomplices, she explains, because they are “still holding on to their children as children”. But in other cases, the parents have no desire to act as custodians of childhood crap.
“No offence to you,” Koedding tells me, “but it’s unfair to your parents”.
I wonder too, if apart from the nostalgia, there is also a hint of narcissism as we wallow in the artifacts of previous lives. In a way that a selfie or a status update makes a digital “I wuz here,” so too do boxes of birthday cards, school assignments and knickknacks.
After all, it’s only important if yours. It’s not like I care about your penguin project.
Either way, it’s a question I will have ample opportunity to consider in further detail, now that I’ve moved my stuff to my own garage. Minus the futon and the dolphin pictures of course – which are free to a good home.
*yes, I am talking about a case of wine.