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Moving Revealed My Basket Addiction

Boxing up the contents of my house after 27 years forced me to face the irresistible habit I had never acknowledged

By Susan Kravet

I was packing up the house where I'd raised a family for 27 years when I realized I had a problem.

A collection of multiple woven baskets. Next Avenue, stuff, downsizing, hoarding
"I had been using all these containers to gain control of the mess, but I looked around and realized it had gotten out of control. I was a basket hoarder."  |  Credit: Eduardo Rodriguez

Surrounded by boxes and bubble wrap, I was engaged in the Herculean task of sorting through years of furniture, papers, photo albums, toys and trophies. There were spices from 2010, stained baby clothes from the 1990s, even the pastel floral sleeping bag I won on the TV show "Wonderama" in 1970.

There was an embarrassing number of shopping bags. But mostly, there were so many baskets.

There was an embarrassing number of shopping bags. But mostly, there were so many baskets.

I had amassed a collection that could have filled the tribal culture section of a natural history museum. I had tasked baskets to hold scarves in my closets, onions in the pantry, towels in the bathrooms and plants in my kitchen.

A Rule of Thumb: 'Dump It'

I had been using all these containers to gain control of the mess, but I looked around and realized it had gotten out of control. I was a basket hoarder.

Something had to go. I was weepy and emotional as I made agonizing decisions designating items for the keep, dump and donate piles. My husband was little help.

"What should I do with this?" I'd ask while holding up glass objects, baskets of crayons, bins of clothing or folders of elementary school artwork.

"Dump it," he'd say without even looking up.

I've saved everything from the time I first took a breath. I still had the stuffed "lamby" that comforted me in my crib. It was missing an eye and fur.

Museums of Childhood

I had also stored everything for my sons, now 29 and 31. They each had a bin with rattles, tattered blankets and Beanie Babies I was sure they'd treasure. Yet each time I sent them a pic of something they texted back, TOSS IT.

I demanded they spend one last day in the house and go through their rooms that were still museums of their childhood. They came and threw field trip souvenirs, sports memorabilia and report cards in the garbage with little sentiment as I secretly retrieved them from the trash bags.

I was experiencing an archeological dig. For them it was a "seek and destroy" mission. I was emotional as I looked back and replayed moments in my memory. They were focused on looking ahead. 

Switching Roles

I had played out this exact scenario a year earlier when my older parents moved out of their home in Florida into an independent living facility in West Palm Beach.

Did I really need these items to remember their childhood or mine?

I'd helped them purge decades of well-worn cooking items, ancient photos of long lost relatives and mementos from trips taken during their 65-year marriage. My mom pressed her treasures on me, begging me to pack them in my carry-on, but I put most of it in the hallway for donation or trash when they weren't looking.

I was trying to get the job done without being totally sympathetic to their distress at parting with their treasures. To appease them, I left with a small tea set and a card shuffler.

Now it was payback time. My boys didn't want any of the things I'd saved for them either. And I didn't want to think about leaving them with the job of going through it when it was my turn for independent living.

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I felt like Stewie in "Family Guy" when the walls of his house collapse around him. "I don't like change," he yells. I was ready to move, but it was completely unsettling. Did I really need these items to remember their childhood or mine?

Do I Still Need My Wedding Gown?

Then I envisioned all the new things that would happen for me as well and I began to get a sense of freedom in letting go. I thought about the future in our new home without all the baggage of these boxes.

I tried on my wedding gown, took some pictures and added it to the pile for donation. I gave away beds and bookcases, gym equipment and a 45-year-old cactus on FB Marketplace; on the website Chairish I sold the kitchen table that was the scene of thousands of meals; I donated carloads of tchotchkes to a GreenDrop donation center and sent the rest to an auction house. 

After another large drop off of vases, books and kitchen items, I went to buy a shower gift and bumped into a friend shopping for the same event. "Let's not get too crazy picking something out," I said to her, "they'll just be throwing it all away in twenty years." She laughed knowingly.

Unburdened, I Can Move Forward

When the packing was finished, I said goodbye to each empty room and played back memories in my head of puppet shows, potty training, homework fights and holidays. It was actually a relief to be able to remember happy times and move forward instead of looking at their childhood rooms, which made me feel stuck in the past.

When the packing was finished, I said goodbye to each empty room and played back memories in my head of puppet shows, potty training, homework fights and holidays.

I learned from this process. I saved a couple of bins of keepsakes I couldn't part with (a Shirley Temple doll and some autograph books) but decided I didn't need my grandmother's chipped china to remember the meals we had on them, or our kids' stained baby clothes and stuffed animals to remember when they were small.

The collectibles that I (and everyone else) saved, thinking they'd be valuable — record albums, sports cards and the aforementioned Beanie Babies, were worth pennies. I made a promise to myself I would no longer collect "stuff" — I'd collect memories.

I vowed to be vigilant about immediately getting rid of magazines, boxes and greeting cards that just piled up and created clutter. And every season, I would consign or donate clothes, shoes and bags that I didn't wear.

New Home, Old Habits

We settled into our new home with the things that are important to us. I unpacked and organized my kitchen and bathrooms. I used one small closet for the photo albums and bins I had saved.

A friend who had been through downsizing told me I wouldn't miss things when they were gone. It was true. When I mentioned to another girlfriend that my new home had no place for towels, she said I should go buy some baskets. I laughed.

I'd always used baskets to maintain order in my life. People who make them take a weak material and weave it until it becomes strong. I hoped that's what I'd done for my family ... knitted a sturdy and resilient structure and provide a foundation for their lives.

I got in my car with a sense of purpose — and headed directly to The Container Store. A couple of new baskets couldn't hurt anyone.

Susan Kravet is a freelance writer with a passion for writing from personal experience on the topics of parenting, women’s issues and relationships. She enjoys finding the humor in everyday life. She and her husband live in New York and have two grown sons. Read More
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