Al Batt: I can’t part with my emotional support clutter

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I finished it.

Al Batt

Yay me!

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I can summarize the book in a single sentence. Get rid of things that no longer have a purpose or spark joy and keep only the things that are purposeful or meaningful.

I’m not sure why I read a book on decluttering a home. The book wasn’t in my wheelhouse, but I’d just donated many dear books to a library and sought affirmation I’d done the right thing. The author said the items I discard should be launched on a new journey with a parting ceremony and I should carry on a dialogue with my home while tidying.

I asked my home what I should get shut of. I thought about tossing out my bills, but I’d had a neighbor, a bachelor farmer, who loved money more than anything it could buy. “If you want to be rich like me, Batt,” he said, “you need to do away with all your monthly bills.”

I mulled over his advice. He didn’t have electricity. He depended upon kerosene lamps for light and another neighbor’s TV for entertainment. I flicked a light switch that illuminated my world and allowed me to read without eyestrain or  headaches. I liked electricity. I liked its monthly bill a bit less, but it still brought me joy.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, her friends called her Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, said, “We are so vain that we even care for the opinion of those we don’t care for.” That doesn’t have much to do with what I’m writing about, but typing “Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach” brings me joy.

My parents differed on the definition of plenitude. My father saved everything because “you never know.” He believed a fellow couldn’t have too much junk. Everything had significance and was worth keeping because it might be used to fix something. My mother thought too many people had too much and too many people had nothing at all, and wanted to give things the heave-ho or away to a good home. She kept precious family heirlooms in a steamer trunk and photos (mostly without labels) in their proper albums, but everything else was walking a fine line between retain and reject.

 Mother hauled things to the dump. Father retrieved them and, then smiling like a vulture with the first option on a dead raccoon, grabbed and brought home many things others had jettisoned.

In general, I enjoy experiences more than possessions. There once was a popular phrase, “I have seen the elephant,” which meant overcoming life’s adversities and hardships. The story goes a farmer had learned the circus was coming to town. He’d never seen an elephant and headed to town with a wagon of produce to market. On the road, he encountered the elephant. The farmer’s horse had never seen an elephant either. The horse spooked, upset the cart, destroyed the farmer’s produce and galloped off. That was an experience and a hardship. The farmer considered his loss and declared, “I don’t care, for I have seen the elephant.”

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach didn’t write that story.

A friend wants to build a pole shed and fill it with the things he doesn’t need. That way, at his estate sale, his family will sell his prized possessions like the broken lawn mower that cost him $500 for only $5. It’s not just a pole shed, it’s poor estate planning.

I often carry a possibles bag. My wife calls it a man purse and others refer to it as a messenger bag. In the olden days of the mountain man, a possibles bag carried everything he needed for the day: black powder, powder measurer, flint, steel, lead balls, patch, patch knife, skinning knife and Axe body spray. The bare essentials. My bag carries a pen, notebook and camera. “Take a coat,” my mother said even on the hottest of days. I crumpled a windbreaker and stuffed it into my possibles bag in her memory.

Many claim to want to simplify their lives, but few do. I have reduced mine to the bare essentials. 

After much consideration, I discarded two things. I rid my home of a package of rice cakes and that book on how to declutter my home.

That brought me joy.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.