For the last few weeks, I have been overwhelmed by stuff. You know, all those things that slowly and quietly accumulate over the decades, until one day you look around your house and say, "Why the heck do I have two pumpkin-shaped soufflé dishes, when I've never even made one soufflé in my life? Do I really need an entire shopping bag full of Archie comics I haven't read since 1978? Does the technology to play this VHS tape of my ninth-grade performance as Snoopy even exist anymore?"
This existential reckoning of all the physical detritus of my life has occurred because of two recent events: First of all, after winning some money on a game show, I renovated my kitchen, which involved packing up everything stuck in the back of our dusty old cabinets and then unpacking it a few weeks later.
Among the items pulled from the deep, dark recesses of my kitchen: a tortilla press, pizza stone and garlic baker, all in their original, unopened boxes; a mandoline (used exactly once, when my kids saw the movie "Ratatouille" in 2007 and asked me to make the thinly sliced eggplant-and-tomato dish for dinner); and a dozen each of some fancy-schmancy crystal goblets for red and white wine, because God forbid you should serve a merlot in a glass meant for chardonnay! I think we used a few of those wineglasses at a Thanksgiving dinner early on in our marriage, but with my two kids and my brother's six-year-old twins running around the house during the holidays these days, we're much more likely to go with those ubiquitous colorful plastic cups from Ikea.
Then there's my parents' basement. After Hurricane Sandy knocked out power in their house for two weeks last fall, my parents finally agreed to at least consider selling their suburban split-level — with its hard-to-climb stairs and big trees that always need trimming — and moving to an apartment in the city closer to me. Which means my dad has begun sorting through the massive piles of stuff in their basement, some of which dates to the early decades of the 20th century.
My parents collect things. Not phonebooks and cat litter and other worthless junk, like the Collier Brothers or those people on "Hoarders," but interesting, occasionally valuable stuff: antique tobacco tins, advertising signs, fountain pens, Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards, jazz records, folk art samplers, newspapers from historic dates. Traveling across the country to "Tin Can-Ventions" and antique fairs was an adventure when they were younger, but now? Some of the stuff can be sold to other collectors, but most of it, well, it's ultimately just very interesting trash.
So my new resolution: No more junk. Seriously. After unloading four or five cardboard boxes of all the rarely or never used stuff in my kitchen, I am suddenly in a very minimalist mood (not a bad thing when you're a family of four living in a two-bedroom apartment). And I've been trying to gently convince my dad, as he sorts through boxes of "Happy Days" board games and jigsaw puzzles from the '70s, that it is okay to let these things go — that it's the memories and the people that matter, not the decaying cardboard and musty cans.
But I'll confess. I do have one more resolution: Drink more wine, in the proper goblet. Because life is too short to sip chardonnay out of an Ikea cup.