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Closet Tales : Dealing With Ages Past--When You Don't Live in a Castle

July 04, 1991| Maureen Brown | Maureen Brown is a writer and mother of four.

Having seen Robin Hood twice, and having read a plethora of reviews analyzing the film, its content and actors, I am yet left with one unanswered question. Will Maid Marian and Robin Hood set up household in Sherwood Forest or will they return to her castle abode?

Consider Little John's wife, who upon having her home burned, relocates in Sherwood Forest with Little John and appears to adjust well to a simplistic life in a tree house with six children.

I envy these two families who will never confront the underlying problem that plagues Southern Californian domestic life.


In a castle, the prospects of engaging dungeons, various hidden chambers and immense halls as reservoirs for outgrown clothes, toys and household items is impressive. Given the limited confines of a tree house, storage is a mute consideration.

While Robin, Maid Marian, Little John and wife battle the evils of their society, we wage an endless campaign to arrest the encroaching clutter that envelops our home.

We live in Southern California, where the issue of adequate storage has eluded most architects and builders. I note with interest all the new homes being peddled with the promotional phrase, "all the amenities." To me, "all the amenities" should entail a basement, an attic or a barn.

While our oldest child was home before summer school began, and before two others left for camp, I addressed the concern I had about the "state of the clutter." I focused my commentary on the importance of detaching oneself from material objects that were no longer being used, worn or desired. The clamor for action was met with feeble endeavors and participants concluded that I had their permission to use my best judgment.

Before sharing what I found upon entering my children's rooms, let me assure you that some areas are considered inviolate, and there is shared agreement that I not invade those private domains.

I honestly don't want to know what the blonde girl in our son's chemistry class might have written in his yearbook, nor do I wish to see the English paper with the word late boldly written in red across the top that might fall into my hands. There is a very clear division between what I may and may not peruse.

I have an agenda and a window of time to consider when I embark on the clutter campaign. This is not a shared task, and I am not inclined to consider the committee approach to decision-making.

I enter each room with three areas of distinction: to be retained, to be contributed and to be tossed away. I have never had a problem distinguishing between the three classifications. This is not the case with all members of our family.

In a committee setting, there is a tendency to promote another category of decision-making: "Well, let's give it another year." I cite the case of the infamous gray boat-neck sweater. By the time we moved into this house 12 years ago, the boat-neck sweater had lived in three different states, been moved 11 times, and had never once been seen on the individual who repeatedly put it in the, "Well, let's give it another year" category.

Initially, I kept several articles of clothing from our older children for our younger ones, believing they would reap the benefits of frugal planning. The passage of time, however, foiled my motives and, like the never-again worn bridesmaid dresses that grace many closets across the land, these outfits were rarely worn again. Moreover, there were certain items of clothing I have been thrilled to pass on--such as a pair of profoundly pointed black shoes. In the two years in which they were part of a certain family member's wardrobe, I never made a statement about their "ugliness" and actually only recall them being worn on two occasions. They will no doubt be recycled for footwear for a school play featuring a witch.

Although, some family members envision me as ruthless in my quest to clean through the clutter, I confess to having a romantic attachment to some items. I cannot part with sentimental items such as the Fisher Price barn set--now 19-plus years-old, sans one barn door and with only three barnyard members remaining--yet I have no trouble passing on outgrown roller skates and bikes. There is a cupboard filled with dolls and stuffed animals that everyone agrees should not be sacrificed. I do, though, question collecting journals and magazines in a society where microfiche is available.

On infrequent occasions, I have been found guilty of giving or tossing away an item deemed notable or important by certain family members. However, in most situations, I have been capable of retrieving a duplicate--such as the two-year-old copy of Consumer's Report featuring a review on air conditioners. Rarely are the well worn cut-off jeans or running shirts an object of yearning.

"Rent a storage shed," my neighbor implores when I discuss the matter of the build up of matter. It is a temptation to consider. Ultimately, though, someone will have to sort through the accumulation of furniture, clothes and essentials.

Unlike life in a castle or deep in the confines of Sherwood Forest, we who live in Southern California must at some point in life consider the gray boat-neck sweater.

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