Box all of that stuff up - then throw out the boxes

October 22, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

This was the week when I felt as if I'd balanced the budget, lost 20 pounds and completed the Baltimore Marathon. Why such a sense of personal accomplishment? Simple. I completed my fall housecleaning.

As I've written on far too many occasions before, I was well trained in the annual Baltimore ritual of spring and fall throwing out, scouring, washing and, let's face it, a little soul-searching along the way.

I began this purge one weekend in September, only to discover my virtue was ill-timed. I removed the window air-conditioning units before their time. We had a very warm September, and this proved to be a mistake of impatience. It didn't set me back.

It's taken me 55 years to learn the practical routine. Throw it out. Give it up. It's a lesson learned from a little brown mouse. Earlier in the year, I went on a small downsizing bender and assembled a bag of clothes to be passed on. I raided the closet and made a light, conservative - actually, a chintzy - give-away selection. Then I blew it; I never got the stuff to its destination. Then came the heat, and the July do-nothings set in. Mistake. When I inspected the bag this fall, I found the pantry mouse had eaten through and had presumably made a nest of my old cotton shirts.

It's been easy for me to save so much. I live in a big house with oodles of storage space. Discarding also requires making a decision on what stays and what disappears. No one likes decisions.

So one day last week, I called a cab and instructed the driver to park by my front door and pop the trunk. Before I was finished, I was at the Franciscan Center on 23rd Street with five lawn-and-leaf plastic bags filled with used clothing, minus the mouse-chewed numbers, which had to be converted in dust rags.

My mother was a great believer in giving to neighborhood charities. She had her own motives, and I have mine. If you're lucky, you'll see your own clothes being reworn by your neighbors. You might not know their names, but you'll recognize your castoffs.

I have a little confession about the fervor of this year's tossing and pitching. A few weeks back, I listened to a sermon given by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. Brendan Hurley. He spoke of his late father in Collingswood, N.J., and how that Mr. Hurley could never quite throw away his empty boxes because, after all, you never know when you might need a box.

I too have quite a nasty box hoard in my cellar, a stash I've been amassing for many years.

Not long after the homily ended, a group of us pew sitters reopened the question of box saving. Most thought that a box discarded was the equivalent of throwing opportunity away.

I weighed the pros and cons of the issue and decided to take the risk. I just might not need that carton, and beside, aren't there stores these days where they sell perfectly good containers, much better than the ones I'm storing, dusting, moving around, nesting and cataloging?

The other day, took the contents to one of those stores where the employees do the packing. I found that for a price, I don't need to warehouse corrugated paper and bubble wrap.

So for the past few days now, I've been visiting my own neighborhood legal dumping bin. And may I say that once your hand overcomes 55 years of inertia, the box inventory of 1977 easily goes over the edge, into the abyss - and is blessedly forgotten.

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