The Courage to Purge

My zone in the garage, the “after” picture.

Lately, I’ve been a brave little buckaroo.

I’m learning to purge.

Don’t worry, I’m not upchucking.  Bulimia will never tempt me.  It doesn’t take all my fingers to count the times I’ve experienced what Hank the Cowdog calls reverse perestroika since I was twelve years old.

I’m Throwing. Things. Away.

It’s hard.

Somehow, growing up, I developed a hatred of waste.  As poor as we were, there was always the sense that “someone else might be able to use this.”   The facility with which some folks fling something like a dirty towel into the trash, makes me wince.  I feel righteous indignation at the disposable society that we’ve become. 

So we recycle.  We use stuff until it is no longer usable.  We take stuff other people are pitching if we can use it.

Our culture has become so affluent that we cannot even give stuff away.  The local Salvation Army went under, in a bankrupt sort of way, because their trash bill was greater than their receipts.  Think about it.

My personal little MySpace, the zone in the garage (I prefer the British pronunciation: GAIR-azh) under my dominion, was, well, beyond the beyonds.   The lovely counter was invisible.  It was the landing zone for all kinds of stuff.  Leftover garage sale remnants, old curricula that no one wants, papers to file – in short, the detritus of decades of my life.

Every three years or so, God blesses me with the perfect mindset for this kind of job.  I stiffen my sinews, twist my head looking aside, and start filling garbage bags.   Those  large, round earrings that no one would take?  Gone.  Clipboards galore?  Out of here.  My favorite mug, chipped right were you sip?  Trashed. Boxes saved and tumbling over everything?  Recycle.

Then there was the file cabinet.  Stuffed so full that your knuckles began to hurt as you approached it.  Good stuff mixed with useless rubbish.   In one moment, I broke an eccentric little habit that even my husband didn’t know I had.  I saved years of utility bills.  When the file got too large, I made a ledger of notebook paper and wrote the information down from each month’s bill before I tossed it.  Our kilowatt usage, price per kilowatt, and amount paid.  Water, gas, electricity, phone.  Years of information.  That’s why I didn’t answer your letters timely, Mel!

In an epiphany of blinding clarity, I asked myself, Why?  So in 1983 we paid $17 a month for water.  How does knowing that help me?  Out they went, pages of useless information.  It was a Neil Postman moment.

But I admit to being a little lost.  How do you do it?  Do you save three months at a time?  A year?  Nothing?

A. HA!!  I need to switch to online bill paying and voila!  my paths will be made straight. 

But I am curious.  How do normal people file their bills?

Oh beautiful counter, it’s so good to see you again.

18 thoughts on “The Courage to Purge

  1. You funny girl, you!  I can tell by your tone that a lot of this was killing you to do, but I’m PROUD OF YOU!!!  Of all the really.important., keeping water/electric bills for comparison’s sake is not one of them, I hate to tell you (…esp. when they are taking the place of keeping ME updated on your life!!!).  My friend who works for an accountant told me a long time ago that I don’t need to keep these bills, which was a great relief.  I spent one evening shredding a year’s worth of them.  It was very cleansing, I must say.
    Who is Neil Postman, by the way?

  2. Yes, cleansing is the word. Invigorating. Dancing silly happy.You don’t keep any??? The old me talking: what if they said that you hadn’t paid the bill? Where would be your proof?Neil Postman. [moment of silence] He wrote one of the most important books I’ve read as an adult. Amusing Ourselves to Death. Here is a description from PaperBackSwap:From the author of Teaching as a Subversive Activity comes a sustained, withering and thought-provoking attack on television and what it is doing to us. Postman’s theme is the decline of the printed word and the ascendancy of the “tube” with its tendency to present everythingmurder, mayhem, politics, weatheras entertainment. The ultimate effect, as Postman sees it, is the shrivelling of public discourse as TV degrades our conception of what constitutes news, political debate, art, even religious thought. Early chapters trace America’s one-time love affair with the printed word, from colonial pamphlets to the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. There’s a biting analysis of TV commercials as a form of “instant therapy” based on the assumption that human problems are easily solvable. Postman goes further than other critics in demonstrating that television represents a hostile attack on literate culture.He compares life before television with current life in several areas of life: politics, education, entertainment, etc. For example, comparing the Lincoln – Douglas debates, where people stood for six hours to listen to sustained discourse, to the sound bites of today’s debates is incredibly instructive. You. must. read. this. book.

  3. I have never heard of the man, but your description intrigues me, and also fills me with guilt at how I use the TV as “filler” in many ways.  Also, if I ask here what’s going on with your shoulder, will you answer? πŸ™‚

  4. Not that I would ever qualify myself as “normal”, but I keep bills for 6 months, in order to verify if the payment gets “lost” or I suspect a sudden change in what I’m being charged.  (Helped a lot when the exterminator mistakenly doubled our bill one month.) 
    I clean ’em out, except for each January’s, when I do the taxes. (We put part of our phone costs down for business expenses, so we have to keep records for 5 years there.)
    I suppose I’d better go to the local library’s web site and order a Postman book or two.  You’ve done it again!

  5. Yes, Ruthie, get thyself to a library.More is coming to me: he compares a Jonathan Edwards sermon to a current televangelist. People are capable of learning and understanding much more than they are getting in typical sermons and newscasts. But it involves creating an appetite for good stuff, good words, etc.I think I will go with your system. I used to be self-employed as a tax preparer; in certain circumstances it really pays to keep your bills.

  6. Kudos to Carol!!
    Way to go with tossing out the trash!  Heaven help my basement when the urge finally strikes.  I can be lethal.  But in the meantime, I’m a pack-rat.
    I’ll bet after waiting such a long time the decision making process was more clear than it would have been even five years ago?
    Great Neil Postman analogy.

  7. Carol,
    This is totally off-topic, but I had to share this with you. We homeschool through a public school extension program, so the kids e-mail contact once a week to our science class teacher, unless they see him at class. We haven’t started class yet, so we’ve been e-mailing every week. Today, Josiah – my 5 1/2 year old – was dictating his letter to me, and he said, “Wait, don’t put ‘bye, Mr. Ramos,’ put ‘Bye, Magister!’ and then tell him that it’s Latin.” I thought that was so cute! We’re only on week four of Prima Latina, but obviously it’s sinking in.

  8. Okay, that (!!) is your garage! Mercy, it is beautiful! When the kids moved to their new house the garage started emptying (they still have a big pile there). Then I started tackling the poor filing cabinets that had fallen apart from our move two years ago. We couldn’t get to them because of the kids stuff. I threw out bills from 2004! My DH is a keeper and I am a thrower. I have to wait until he is gone before any projects! Tax records on the other hand need to be kept for ten years! I am sure we have them for at least twenty! I want a garage like yours (sniff sniff), blessings and much love, m in sc

  9. i was forced to purge, one fine day when my husband was taking the roof off the attic. (Yeh, you see why the “forced.”) As my son carried in box after messed up and full box of the stuff of our 28 years in this house, i looked with horror and dismay and a healthy dose of embarrassment and the amount of mostly useless stuff that had been stashed in the attic and then ransacked by the rodents– but, BOY did i get stuff down into manageable plastic bins, and threw away and donated a TON. i was so impressed with myself. And it was a good thing, because the house project is still going on, and my attic is still MIA.
    As for my files, that’s about the only thing i do go through most years. (Accent on the “most.”) But i do love to find the occasional old bill that tells me what i paid for electricity a while back! i kind of wish i had kept one or two for a scrapbook–great conversation starters–“Look what we paid for our first computer and printer! We could buy 3 for that price now!”

  10. Julee, ugh! Rodents are loathsome. One feels so lithesome after pitching large quantities of stuff. We have some friends who framed their first bank statement as a married couple. I think the balance was below $5.00. It was always a delightful reminder of their roots.I used to (still have?) save check registers. It’s funny to look through and wonder who those people were that you wrote checks out to. And how a fill-up cost $9.00. Carrie – I love it! “Bye Magister!” That’s great!

  11. What a lovely garage (I also like the British pronunciation). Even when mine is clean it doesn’t look that nice.Its funny you should make this entry.. I’ve been purging my school room today. I found a place that takes used curriculum to give away to needy families, so I started getting rid of stuff I haven’t used in YEARS but just couldn’t bring myself to throw out.

  12. I’m not at all sure we qualify as “normal” people, but Terry saves one years worth of bills (in theory, I need to purge as well!), three years of bank statements, and all our check registers (for the amusement and history of it).  I file any bills that are deducted on our tax return with the tax return so in the rare event of an audit we would have the necessary documentation. He pays a lot of our bills online now but we still get hard copies of them.Your garage looks wonderful.  Sandy

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