Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 1, 2011


Last Sunday, I threw away a pair of black sandals that were at least 15 years old. The leather on the inside was so worn, it looked gray, and a piece on top had started to curl. The shoes had stretched so much that they no longer stayed on my feet.

While I didn't feel guilty getting rid of them, it wasn't easy. In fact, it's not easy for me to dispose of many things - even those that have outworn their usefulness. I was raised on a farm by parents who taught me frugality. They had learned the lessons of thriftiness as children of the Depression.

But even a noble trait like thriftiness can be carried to extremes.

A good example is our "quillo" - a small quilted blanket that can be folded into a pillow. Rita, my late mother-in-law who died in 1997, gave it to us. On many cold winter nights, it was a handy cover for anyone watching TV. But its faded outside and protruding batting were a silent testimonial to its heavy use over the years.

Then a voice told me, "Gloria, I'm going to kick your rear if you don't throw that away."

I could have sworn it was Rita's voice. She was NOT one to keep items that had seen better days, even though she also lived through the Depression and might have had an even harder life than my folks had.

Still, I couldn't quite bear to put it in the trash, so I gave it, along with old towels and sheets, to the animal shelter.

Now that I was in the mood, I decided I'd better keep moving before I was again overtaken by the urge to keep everything with even a smidgen of usefulness. My closet was my next target because some clothes had hung there for a couple of decades. Youngest daughter Katie, who has been my "fashion consultant" for several years, joined me on my mission.

I pulled out a jacket and held it up for her to inspect.

Katie shook her head and said, "Picture this: you're a guest on 'Sesame Street' back in the '90s and your hair is permed and fat. That's the jacket you'd be wearing."

I laughed, folded the jacket and put it in a trash bag.

Then I brought out a sweater.

"Okay, now that's like the sweater Neal on 'The Santa Clause' was wearing," she said. "That's the sweater Tim Allen made fun of."

Another item into the bag!

And so it went. Shirts, skirts, dresses, pants. Into the bag they went. Before long, two bags were full. They'll probably go to the Salvation Army.

The next objective was oldest daughter Mariya's room. I call it that despite the fact that she moved out in 2004 when she began college. Mariya seems to have a perfectly chosen place for everything and so can pack an unusually large number of things into a very small space. So while she took a large number of items with her when she moved, enough remained that I think most people would have guessed she was still living with us.

Neither she nor I had ever really gone through her stuff and she balked when I told her I wanted her to decide what to keep and what to get rid of.

"You've moved on with your life," I told her. "Now it's time for me to move on with mine."

She relented! And once the three of us got into it, she seemed to genuinely enjoy weeding the garden of her childhood. Soon stuffed animals, books, CDs, tapes and DVDs, Green Bay Packers paraphernalia, high school lecture notes and other miscellaneous junk filled several boxes and bags. All will be given away, recycled or sold at a garage sale.

Our work even inspired husband Art. He went through a bunch of his things and gained a whole dresser drawer.

While this "spring cleaning" had slipped into summer, I think the de-cluttering bug had really bit me in mid-April. That was when I had arranged to have some dead pine trees removed from our property. Although they had for many years provided a nice privacy "fence" between us and our neighbors, their brown droopy branches had become an eyesore. While the workers were at it, I had them prune the pin oak, redbud and ash trees in our yard and some elms that had been damaged by winter ice storms and summer wind storms in recent years.

The change in our yard and the appearance of the remaining trees at first seemed strange. But I quickly grew to like it. Two months later, the remaining trees are even leafier than before.

But even more strange is that I somehow feel as if a weight has been lifted from me - as if I can breathe easier. I experienced those same feelings when I finished with my closet and Mariya's room.

Maybe there is a larger lesson here than just gaining a drawer or some space at the back of a closet. Perhaps what we all need from time to time is to do a little pruning - to take a fresh look at our life and see what is really working for us and what is just cluttering it up. Then we can remove the deadwood and, like the trees, begin to grow again.

Left: Mariya, holding the numberless clock, and sister Katie de-clutter Mariya's room;
right: one of the tree-service workers climbs a tree to remove storm-damaged branches.

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