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Life as Performance Art

“Maybe it’s in the closet,” Molly would say. “I’ll check.”
We all knew what was coming: Fibber would shout to her, “Don’t touch that closet!” too late, and the sound effects man would pour his props into a metal container, much to the laughter of the studio audience and those of us at home.  
It was the famous, “Old Closet Routine” from the Fibber McGee and Molly Show. It never got old and we always laughed.
Molly would pick up something, perhaps a ring of keys, and ask Fibber why he was keeping it. “That’s the key to the back gate at our old home back in Peoria,” he would say. Molly would remind him they’d moved away 30 years ago and probably the gate and fence were long tone.  
“Never know, we might move back there one day, and then it’ll come in handy,” he would tell her. 
It was one of those radio skits that always worked and it made us laugh for good reason: we all have a hidey-hole much like it. Anything we needed to quickly tuck away when a guest was ringing the front doorbell, and all the stuff we were convinced we would use someday went into the closet. Or the basement. Or the attic.  
When the day came to excavate the room, it looked like King Tut’s tomb. Anything we might need in the future was there. We also realized there were many items we did not need.
We tuck our stash in closets, drawers, under the bureau and bed, in the basement and the garage. And when we run out of room at home we think about renting a storage unit.
Eventually, the day comes when we echo Fibber, “I got a get around to going through that stuff someday.” 
The other evening Madame Dewey and I were talking about funeral arrangements. I said I wanted to be mummified, then put into a painted-wood coffin enclosed in a proper sarcophagus.  
She gave me that look and said, “Not in my house,” to which I said, “No, send it to my sister; she never throws anything away.” She got in the last word, “Must run in the family.” She might be right.
 There are three basic reasons we never throw anything away: We worked hard and spent good money to get it, so tossing it away is admitting we were wrong. Second, we really might want to use it again. Third, we feel guilty getting rid of something, especially if it belonged to someone in the family. We feel a moral duty to pass them on to the next generation.  
Mother, like many women her age, had a vast collection of demitasse souvenir spoons from exotic places such as the 1937 Kansas State Fair. No one wants them anymore, not even the Kansas State Fair Board. Antique dealers won’t give much for them and their only value is to melt them down for the silver.
That seems sacrilegious. We pause, stunned to silence and ask, “Seriously? Get rid of Mother’s collection?” We cannot do it. We will box it up and give it to the grandchildren. 
While we are at it, we can include our collection of bar coasters from places we can no longer remember having visited. “They’ll get a kick out of them.” Sure they will.
Beanie Babies, Precious Moments figurines, commemorative plates of John Wayne or Elvis, Hummel Figurines, Pet Rocks … Get rid of them? 
Sure, you hear so-called cleaning experts say there’s no market for them, but do you believe them? I say it’s a conspiracy! They want you to get rid of them and offer to haul them away as part of their service.
My bet is that they have warehouses of these icons of Americana, just waiting to cash in on a burst of nostalgia when a generation or two yet to be born says, “Oh! I’ve got to have that Pet Rock. I heard Great-Granny Gaudy Gertie used to have one just like it!” They think they will make a fortune from stuff like that.
Hold on to those paisley shirts, pedal pushers and Capri pants. Save those wide, hand-painted silk ties, your collection of genuine brass belt buckles. Do not toss those plastic bright blue dress shoes you wore to the disco. You might want to wear them again, if only to embarrass the rest of your family.
Stash away all your political campaign buttons; they might come in handy. Some Halloween, order a nun’s costume a few sizes too large, stuff a pillow down the front and put on that big campaign button from half a century ago that reads “Nixon’s the One.” 
There is a regular cottage of industry of experts and consultants who will come to your house and, for a s big fee, help you declutter. A few make it sound impressive when they speak in solemn tones about Swedish Death Cleaning. Likely some Tik-Tok Social Influencer is laughing all the way to the bank from the profit made by a video showing how to put something into a wastepaper basket.
Friends, do not fall for this nonsense! You worked hard to pay for that stuff you collected. Sure, it was a dumb purchase and waste of money. But toss it away and you are tossing away some of the best years of your life.  
Hold on to those empty pizza boxes you have stacked in the garage. Every one of those greasy, smelly, varmint-attracting boxes tells the story of a meal you ate. You can’t just chuck out all that personal history, can you?
At my first parish in Minnesota there was an old boy who had spent years raising gladiolas and winning ribbons at county fairs.  He strung several lines of thin wire across his living room ceiling and attached the ribbons to them.
By the time I met him, the whole ceiling was covered with ribbons that gently blew back and forth. He would proudly point them out to visitors, and anyone could tell they were the most important thing in his life.
He passed away and no one wanted the ribbons, so they ended up in a bonfire.
Save all this loot, these prized possessions, and stack and store them neatly so you can add more decades of collection to your stash.
And take pride in it. It is your life represented there, so enjoy it. Don’t be lured into that romantic notion that you ought to clean up and get rid of this stuff so your children and the grands won’t have to clean up behind you.
We Olds have a sacred final duty here. Someday, when every nook and cranny is filled, when the attic is beginning to sag and the three-stall garage is too full to get even one small bicycle inside, gaze fondly upon your treasures and remember what each piece represents. 
Then imagine the future. Leaving all of this for the next generation is sweet revenge for all their sulking, pouting, dirty looks and slammed doors. It’ll serve them right.
You can thank me for the advice later.

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