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Let It Go? We’re Trying

You Say ‘Hoarder’ Like It’s a Bad Thing


It’s the parental fear that no generation before ours has yet grappled with: the terror that our children will grow up to be on a reality show. My particular dread? I’m raising a prime-time “hoarder.”

Never one to pass a rock without dropping it in his pocket, my youngest child weeps and wails if I throw out a year-old, splay-bristled, paste-encrusted toothbrush. He has Valentine’s candy from 2011 crammed into keepsake boxes in his tchotchke-stocked bedroom.

Starshine Roshell

And last weekend, the boy refused to relinquish a pair of skate shoes whose canvas had torn away from the rubber soles up front, exposing his toes as he walked and flapping open like a chatty cartoon mouth. Even my grandmother, raised on scraps in the Oklahoma dust bowl, would call them “hobo shoes.” Though he left the shoe store with two new pairs, he wouldn’t — couldn’t — throw the old ones in the trash. So I did.

“It’s just …” he started, “I have a lot of good memories with those shoes.” Perfect, I reasoned. Then you don’t need the actual shoes. And memories don’t take up room in the closet.

It’s a constant battle: His sentimentality versus my efficiency. He has collections and mementos; I have goals and checklists. He loves to reminisce and savor the past while I strive to produce and stay ahead of the clock.

I know what you’re thinking. He sounds like a much more pleasant person to be around — and he absolutely is. In fact, as the youngest in our family, it may well be his job to dig in his heels and slow us all down a bit.

But as the Roshells’ trusty rudder, my job is to steer us toward our future and make sure we’re all ready for what’s next — whatever that may be. And it turns out what’s next is a fancy backyard.

I decided that after years of being ransacked by hooligans, it was time to convert our yard from a wild play zone (think parched lawn littered with bent hula hoops) into a sophisticated retreat (picture a copper fire pit, charming herb garden, and twinkle-lit pergola). That meant bidding adieu to the gargantuan wooden play structure that my boys had swung on, climbed up, and slid down for a dozen years — but that was now merely collecting cobwebs and blocking out the sun that my future parsley pots would surely require.

Naturally, my pack-rat progeny did not take the news well. There were tears. And hugs. And talk of letting go and moving forward. We found a family that was thrilled to dissemble the creaky beast and take it home to their own toddler.

On the day they stood in our backyard dismantling the rock wall and picnic table, and unscrewing the custom ship’s helm and trap door that my husband had added, I went busily about my chop-chop checklists: coiling hoses, serving water, sweeping up debris. On a whim (blast it — even my whims are productive!), I snapped a photo of the razed plaything and texted it with a final “thank you” to all the family members who had helped us buy it back when the millennium was still new.

And as I hit “Send,” a flood of nostalgia hijacked me. Tears sprang from my eyes and spilled down my face toward my quivering chin. I stumbled over to my son. “It’s just …” I sniffled, “I have a lot of good memories of that play set.” He hugged me as I sobbed, and we both stared in shock at the huge hole in our yard, an emptiness lit by bright sunlight.

When we were done gaping, and weeping, I went out to the side yard, plucked my kid’s hobo shoes from the garbage can and tucked them quietly back into his cluttered closet.

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