This Side Up

We all can use a Margo’s room


If you follow the cartoon page, you probably saw the recent Close to Home panel by John McPherson featuring a couple in adjoining rooms filled with clutter. The man seated in front of a TV, that emerges from piles of books, papers, boxes and cans is saying, “Hey, Louise, check this out! There’s a show about hoarders on. You know, those people that just hold onto all kinds of useless stuff.”

I tore the cartoon from the paper and, without a word, placed it in front of Carol who was at the computer opening her email for the first time that day. She paused and then laughed.

She had acknowledged what we know is our common trait – the inability to part with anything that quite possibly might have a future use or a sentimental attachment – even emails.

In a sense, the cartoon was a sort of peace offering and a gentle suggestion at the same time.

In one of those rare moments where the weight of possessions seemed too much, but also of seemingly little meaning to life, I entered what has become known as “Margo’s room” at our house. At one time, this third-floor room was the bedroom of an American Field Service student from Japan. That was when my daughter Diana was in high school, so it goes back to the mid-1980s. That was the last time the room was used as a bedroom. When Margo left, the room morphed into Carol’s office and then into a storage room. At first there was some symmetry, with paintings done by Carol, my mother and other family members leaning against one another on one wall; and along another wall, a shelf laden with papers and other “important” stuff.

With time and the advent of grandchildren and their toys and the perpetual accumulation of things, the once orderly assembly crumbled. Margo’s room was the place where those items of future use waited to be called, assuming you knew they were there, and that you could find them.

I was going to break the cycle.

If I could make headway in Margo’s room, there was hope for my sock drawer and perhaps my bureau top, with its array of loose change, pens that no longer work, business cards from people long forgotten, notes, match books, fossils (yes, the genuine thing) an interestingly shaped or colored rocks collected from shores and mountain trails. If there was progress with the bureau there might be hope for my office desk. It would all start with Margo’s room.

Actually, the first foray was fruitful. I found a quantity of empty boxes, which we carefully saved, expecting they would be needed some day. Parting with them was easy, until the recycling bin was packed tight. But that didn’t halt the purge. Rather, the cardboard was piled high so that it could make its departure in stages.

I hit the brakes when our Christmas newsletter from 15 years ago surfaced. I read it, chuckled and decided it should stay. Digging deeper, I came across cards and even an unopened UPS box.

“How could we have missed this?” I wondered.

I cut the tape and opened the flap to pull out a Russian-style nest of dolls representing the manger characters, with the baby Jesus as the innermost doll. Yes, I remembered these. Carol ordered them as gifts and, obviously, this was a spare. That couldn’t be cast aside. It was brand new, for heaven sake!

I dug no farther and the entire carton of paper, boxes and assorted things came downstairs. Carol started poking through it. She found pictures from her childhood and notes from her aunt; a trove of memories. There was no way they would be cast into the recycling bin.

There was an analogy here; rather than delegating “clutter” to the trash bin, we were “recycling” times long gone. Like the nesting dolls, each box we opened revealed another inside. None of it would have been there had either of us freed ourselves of it long ago, if there had not been a Margo’s room.

It comes down to choices. Some of what we can’t part with needs no rationalization – the report card from third grade, the picture of that first car, the Valentine from mom – they’re mileposts in our lives. There’s a lot of stuff far less meaningful, but maybe does have some future use. This is tougher to deal with. There can be liberation in letting it go but remorse when it’s missed.

As long as there’s a “Margo’s room,” I suppose the decision is easy.

The important thing is to open the door every so often and poke through the boxes. If you don’t, the treasures remained buried.


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