Calm seas ahead for ‘S.S. Hoarder’

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Feb. 27, 2014

Calm seas ahead for ‘S.S. Hoarder’

In my youth, I harbored dreams of sailing the world. It’s a dream that didn’t end with the birth of my first child when other responsibilities become so much more immediate. It didn’t sink with the birth of my second or third, nor when my fourth came aboard.

From the relative safety of landlocked Memphis, I was able to let my sails fill with the far-fetched idea that I, and my crew of four, would someday visit the sandy beaches and protected bays of Portugal, Fiji, the Maldives or any number of Caribbean islands.

The only alteration in my plan over the years involved the increasing size of the imagined boat. Not by much — a foot here, a foot there. One more berth, an extra life jacket.

Never mind the fact that I don’t sail. Not in practice, anyway. In theory, in my imagination, I’m setting a course by the North Star, cutting my jib and trimming my sails. But it’s a dream, and dreams are rarely practical.

Yet recently, pragmatism became the very anchor to stall the S.S. Imagination. We moved to a new house. It wasn’t a move to the blue water of Antigua or even onto a 42-foot sloop. It wasn’t three time zones, but a mere three streets away. And yet, despite such a short jaunt, the physical means necessary to move this family of six half a mile might have taken an armada.

We have too much stuff.

Like so many in today’s society, we consume, and we keep, and casting off what is unnecessary becomes unthinkable. We cleared out closets and then moved on to cabinets. We scavenged under beds and in the attic, rifled desk drawers and tackled whole rooms. We found Davy Jones’ locker, a dead man’s chest and a bottle of rum.

The idea of ever paring down our lives enough to fit it all on a single boat became laughable. A wicked pirate sort of laugh that devolved into a salty sob carried away on the wind with my dreams.

The act of clearing out what we didn’t want or no longer used was cathartic. The Salvation Army and Goodwill received boatloads of goods that will hopefully be put to better use. But it felt like deck chairs thrown from the Titanic.

We have way too much stuff.

Amidst our mess, though, we did uncover some buried treasure: photo albums, childhood toys that had provided my children with security, art projects made by tiny hands and mementos gone missing. These things are the lifelines of parenthood, the flotation devices to help buoy us when the seas of parenthood become rocky and threatening. These were good omens, our red skies at night.

The new house is slowly becoming shipshape. While it may not move at 20 knots, boxes are still being unpacked and stowed, the purge is ongoing, and the S.S. Hoarder is floating lighter than before. With all hands on deck, we’re weighing anchor and setting a course for the island chain of Less-Is-More.

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