BUBBE TALK: A dilemma over the downside of downsizing

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BUBBE TALK: A dilemma over the downside of downsizing

My husband hates clutter. I hate sticky counters. We discuss these issues a lot – especially now that Michael is working from home.

We also talk about downsizing. There’s no plan yet, but we do know it’s time to let go of unused things that take up space in our home. Michael has no problem doing this (although he hasn’t adopted my love for smooth countertops). When he takes a work break, he often goes to the basement and gets rid of stuff.

I, on the other hand, don’t feel like I have a lot of belongings, but what I do have has meaning to me. That said, if I were to interview my husband for this column, I think you’d hear a long rebuttal to that statement.

One weekend after hearing again about how much junk I have, I finally said, “Michael, show me what is driving you so crazy.” We went to the basement, and he pointed at a large filing cabinet, a few wicker baskets, and bins.

What was it? Forty years of articles, annual reports, newsletters, and brochures. Precious materials filled with words that I wrote. That’s what my husband wanted me to get rid of.

This? All this? These papers represent me. My career has been a huge part of my identity and I’ve held onto these papers as a portfolio for new assignments and for sentimental reasons.

This request baffled me. Michael loves me and has always expressed pride about my work. When we meet new people, he will boast about all of the things I’ve done. He recites my resume better than I do.

But the piles annoy him. I’m still not sure how to interpret this, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about these documents. Chances are, if I apply for a job at this point in my life, interviewers won’t be impressed with samples from the ‘80s, ‘90s or early 2000s.

I relented. Over a two-day period, I made multiple trips to the basement, carrying up papers to sort through at the kitchen table. They were historically significant in my life. I looked at one of the first print ads produced by a local hospital. I was part of the team to develop this campaign. There were pages of work that focused on destigmatizing mental illness. I reread brochures detailing what to expect as an inpatient, a women’s health newsletter, booklets for parents on how to explain sex to kids, and a graphic account of breast replacement surgery.

And all of those annual reports. I had a love/hate relationship with them. Despite it all, I always found something moving in the accomplishments of the nonprofits I worked for. There were four years of reports discussing efforts to decrease child abuse.  Others detailed accomplishments of major teaching hospitals and a storied human services nonprofit.

Later, I went through my newspaper and magazine articles. After I had children, my work morphed into journalism because it was something I could do at home, and I also had a few lucky breaks. Yes, it was a dream come true.

There were multiple copies of articles thanks to my dad, who worked for Staples after he retired. He generously made copies of my published work. Lots of copies. I have recycled many, but clearly not enough.

During my “to purge or not to purge” dilemma, I tested my husband. I showed him an article that I wrote for the Patriot Ledger about two die hard Patriots fans attending the last game at Sullivan Stadium. The fans were Michael and my brother-in-law (who were featured in a photo, too).  I showed it to him and said I bet you don’t want to get rid of this. But he did. Sigh.

I’d like to be like Teflon because nothing sticks. I’d like to just let go of whatever it is that I have too much of – whether its feelings, belongings, or the tangible products from my career. It was an emotional process to produce these materials and so many years later, it’s an emotional process to think about letting go of them.

It’s 2024, and it has been 11 years since I started a new career. My time helping nonprofits promote their work was rewarding and when I left it, I had no regrets. Sitting in my kitchen a few weeks ago, surrounded by all of this stuff, I reminisced about who and where I was when creating these documents. Each had its own life cycle. There was the research, interviews, writer’s block, drafts, approvals, back to the drawing board phases, printer proofs, and distribution. And the joy of holding the document after all of this, knowing what went into producing it (unless someone found a typo).

Many years ago, I worked with the spouse of a print reporter. He told me that he had put his wife’s articles into a book for his daughters. I was struck by that because her work was so meaningful.

Do I want to do something similar? Do my grown children really want to read through my articles about plastic surgery techniques and dental implants? Do they care that I kept old tapes of a radio show I hosted in the 1980s (that was aired at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings)? My only listener was my uncle Marvin, who tuned in when he drove to shul on Sunday mornings.

I didn’t ask my kids if they wanted any of my work. I just went ahead and made decisions. I filled the recycling bin to the brim. I had Michael take a picture of me standing next to it.

That was a leap for me. Surprisingly at this moment, I have no regrets.

FYI: I did keep clips from People magazine, and a few other things that my husband doesn’t need to be concerned about.

Also, I have hundreds of family photos, and I guess at some point it will be time to go through those, too. But those chronicle many lives and I won’t let them go easily – or at all. Even though they can be scanned, I can tell you now that most of them – from the early 1900s to the ‘90s – will be kept.

Carolyn Eggert writes from Newton. Previously she was a reporter for People magazine. Questions? Please email her at Carolyneggert@yahoo.com.

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