Matt Archbold graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 1995. He is a former journalist who left the newspaper business to raise his five children. He writes for the Creative Minority Report.
I'm not a pack rat. But I have packrattish tendencies. I'll admit it, I have a hard time throwing things out. My wife is ruthless, especially with my stuff. Just because a shirt has a few holes she think it's time to throw it in the garbage. I think if you wear another shirt on top of it which has holes that don't match up you're still pretty good. She doesn't. I told you, she's ruthless.
The reason I bring this up is that right now we're faced with our yearly dilemma. School is out and the kids have essentially brought home the entire school with them. I've got kids in five different grades and every drawing, every essay, every art project comes home on the last day. I think they do this in hoping that with all the stuff coming in the door I'll forget about the report cards. I don't. I'm a pack rat, not an idiot.
So our living room this week has looked like a kindergarten classroom blew up in it. Now, it's probably not good to put the words "kindergarten" and "blew up" in the same sentence but that's how the room looks. So what to do with everything? It looks like the day after Christmas for a very literate and arts and crafty family.
My wife says throw it all out. But hold on just one second. We need to go through it all and consider everything. She says "fine" in that which actually doesn't mean "fine" at all but actually means everything is not at all fine and I should be wary. So the kids and I this weekend put a little time in together to go through the stuff.
My ten year old daughter is fine with getting rid of everything. Her favorite class is gym and there were no gym projects.
My eleven year old however makes projects and then hands them out as gifts to her classmates and these other girls give theirs to her. So we have about seven hundred bead bracelets, five hundred lanyards, and 237 drawings of two girls with their arms around each other with the letters "BFFL" above, below or next to them. She feels that we can't throw out a gift so we have to keep them, right?
The tests? The kids are more than happy to get rid of them. They think of it as evidence that implicates them. So that's easy. They go in the garbage. After that, however, things become a little gray.
Essays. Now, when your kid writes something about Thomas Jefferson I'm all for ditching it, especially because pretty much everything they wrote was copied off Wikipedia, just plain wrong, or both. But what about when they write about their grandfather who passed away a few years before? Or how about when they write of their brother and sisters who helped them when their arm was broken? You see, things get a little murky. I'll admit it, I'm a little sentimental. I'd much rather read one of these things than look at a picture of them. So I decided to keep things like this.
Science projects. Ah, the fond memories of my children running up to me in a panic at bedtime because they just remembered they had a science project due the next morning and me running out to the store for supplies and building their project while they sat sleepily beside me at the kitchen table. Yeah, they can go in the garbage.
But here's the real problem. Art projects. When your five year old bring you an armload of her art projects and explains what each and everyone of them means to her it's a little rough to toss them even if she didn't color inside the lines. At one point she said, "this one is all of us when we stayed up at the mountains, and this one is you throwing us around the pool, and this one...well I don't know what this is." It turned out that one of her pictures was from a kid in her class named Brendan which had inadvertently ended up in her bag but she said she really liked it and wanted to keep it. She said Brendan had a really big head. I told her that wasn't nice but my seventh grade daughter said that she'd seen it and Brendan did actually have a huge head. My five year old said she wasn't saying anything bad about him because he had a big head and he was funny. Brendan's project hit the trash with the Jefferson essay but I couldn't bear to part with many of her other pictures.
And it gets worse from there. My kids go to a Catholic school so there's all sorts of religious pictures. How do you throw out your eight year old's connect-the-dot picture of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus even if it's colored purple and outside the lines and one of the sheep has Dalmatian like polka-dots? I know it's not blessed or anything but I just can't throw it out.
I know it doesn't make sense but I'm actually o.k. with throwing out pictures of Old Testament prophets made out of cereal. Froot-Loops Noah can go. Special K Moses? 86 him. But pictures of Jesus? I tried tossing one that was hardly colored in but my son yelled, "Dad, you can't throw out God!!!? And they all looked at me as if I were on the precipice of a very great sin. Starting to feel like Pontius Pilate I put Jesus back on the saved pile. Yeah, I get the irony of that.
But the saved pile is now huge. It's probably bigger than Brendan's head. My wife isn't going to like this. And truth be told, I'm out of hiding places. All out. I think it's time for some ruthlessness. Or maybe just a bigger house.