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I Love My Stupid Stuff Too Much to Ever "Tidy Up"

I come from a long line of sentimental women who love their clutter.

My granny has recently started mailing me coffee mugs. She used to send homemade cookies—chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, some sort of lemon thing with too many ingredients—but now it's just these holiday-themed mugs. In October, I got one that had "Pumpkin Spice Everything" painted on it in cursive. Another came in December that says "Fa-la-la latte" and has a handle that can hold a tiny spoon.

I have so many coffee mugs of my own that it's already impossible to close the cabinets in my tiny kitchen. But I squeeze each one my granny sends onto my crowded shelves. These mugs are not something I would ever buy for myself. These mugs do not spark joy. But the thought of throwing them out does spark sadness and a feeling of pre-grief that, inevitability, the tacky holiday mugs won't come anymore.

I've been in homes where there are no redundancies in items, where every little thing has its own little place, and those homes are lovely and picturesque. And I know that right now, I'm supposed to be tidying up like everyone else who's currently inspired by Marie Kondo's Netflix show. I know I'm supposed to want the minimal home and the stress-free, empty cabinets and drawers. But I also know myself, and I'm going to keep shoving the tacky holiday mugs into the cabinet as long as they keep coming.

Another thing my granny does, besides send the mugs, is hold onto everything. She has the dolls my mom played with still sitting in her bedroom, she has two Belgian waffle makers in a closet under her stairs, she keeps Tupperware containers she's had for decades, she has the blue cashmere sweater my grandpa sent her when they were first dating, and her attic is overflowing with so much stuff you need a map to navigate it. She talks about going through it all and getting rid of things—of tidying up—but the line always comes off as a joke, because the rest of her family knows she never will.

My mom, her daughter, does the same thing. Even though I haven't lived in her house in six years, she still has the mix CDs my friends made me in high school and my old class notebooks in my old bedroom. She keeps the baby clothes my brother and I wore and the teeth that fell out of our heads when we were growing up. She has dozens of pairs of shoes in her closet just in case any of them come back in style again (it's not a bad idea, some of them already have). Like my granny, she also talks about purging. And I nod along and tell her it sounds like a good idea, but she and I both know it's never going to happen.

The women in my family are too sentimental to be tidy. If we held up the stuff that's taking up space in our cabinets and attics, we'd stubbornly find a way to make it spark joy just so that we could keep it. I didn't want to be this kind of woman, the kind who holds onto things she has no use for. Like the rest of the ways I swore I'd never be like my mom, I put a lot of effort into being the sort of person who has a place for everything and doesn't hoard. When I moved from her cluttered house to an empty apartment in Brooklyn, I brought one suitcase of only the essentials. And on each trip back to her house, I bring the suitcase and fill it up with more of the stuff that my mom holds onto for me in my bedroom, and lug it back to fill my previously sparse shelves.

Because it's not just the mugs. A stack of records (heavy, useless, hard to move to new apartments) is leaned against my wall because they no longer fit on their designated shelf. My books are stacked in ways that are probably ruining them, because how can I get rid of them once I've written in the margins? Underneath my bed is a warzone of feelings. All the cards and letters I've ever been sent (including their envelopes) are overflowing out of a wicker basket. The prayer journals my granny sends with her mugs, one for each month of the year, are shoved into another basket. I've never opened one of them and probably never will. But, like the mugs, when I pick them up, I think of how my granny must've thought of me when she saw them and paid to send them in the mail. They spark dread more than joy, and I hold onto them anyway.

I called my mom earlier this week to ask if she'd seen the Marie Kondo show, and we joked about how neither of us could ever purge our piles of sentimental junk. I asked her where we get that from ("your granny," she said) and why we're this way. She says she can answer that for all of us. It's the same reason we all keep saying we'll go through our stuff and tidy up, but never actually get rid of anything. We hold onto the junk—store it in attic boxes, shove it in cabinets, lug it in suitcases across the country—because when we do finally try to de-clutter, we find that the stuff doesn't spark joy, it sparks memories. So the three of us hold onto everything. We fill the nooks and crannies of our homes with things that remind us of each other. It's a way of holding on, and that means we've reluctantly accepted never being tidy women.

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