If you really want to test your marriage, just pack up your house. You don’t even have to move; simply spend time together determining who has more useless crap. In our case, I think even Mr. 70 Percent would agree that he wins that contest. He is fond of collecting dust magnets like architectural statues and bronze animals, and cannot throw out–I mean, recycle–any magazine until he’s read it, even if it is from 1994 and all its contents are online. Also he thinks it is important to keep every American Express statement he’s received since the Reagan administration. Yet that doesn’t stop him from trying to throw out the one box in the attic–amid his 200 filled with National Geographics dating back to 1969–that contains my precious college notebooks. (Hey, I could be called upon at any moment to compare and contrast the Renaissance and the Reformation, or dissect the dinner party scene in To the Lighthouse!)
It was easy enough to overlook such pack-rat tendencies when he was cramming cabinets and overstuffing drawers in the house we thought we’d stay in forever. But now that we’re moving, there’s a new enforcer in town, and she is not going to tolerate one single atlas that still shows the Soviet Union. Since my husband started his new job in January, we have been steadily moving carloads of stuff up to Vermont with him, which provides the dual benefit of outfitting his temporary quarters while reducing the clutter in our house so potential buyers might actually be able to see the hardwood floors. The problem with this arrangement, of course, is that it gives Hector the Collector a convenient alternative to tossing anything out: “I’ll just take it to Vermont!”
Which brings me to how we nearly came to blows over kitchenware. Mr. 70 Percent was standing in the kitchen, staring pensively at two identically-sized pans, one in each hand. They were strange pans, neither frying nor sauce but something in between–wok-shaped, with flat bottoms and handles. I can’t recall ever using one, so I’m not sure how we wound up with two. “Pick one or they both go,” I said in my most menacing Sophie’s Choice voice. He was dithering. “This one has ridges on the bottom… but this one looks newer and has a nicer handle…” I was on the verge of seizing both and hitting him over the head when our 10-year-old stepped in and unwittingly defused the tension. “Geez, Dad,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It’s a pan! Have your farewell ceremony and get on with it.” And in an instant, my girl had coined the unofficial motto of our move: Have your farewell ceremony and get on with it.
Since then, I have repeated that directive numerous times, for everything from ancient cookbooks and 40-pound encyclopedias to out-of-fashion suspenders and unused athletic shoes. Not that it makes a damn bit of difference. Last weekend, along with the trash, a broken fish tank, and some old Science Fair poster boards, I lugged out to the curb a well-used portable piano keyboard that became obsolete when we got an actual piano four years ago. Mindful of the trash pickers who cruise our neighborhood looking for treasures, I placed a sticky note on it: STILL WORKS! A few hours later, Mr. 70 Percent and I were hauling more junk out to the street when I noticed the keyboard was gone. “Oh, good!” I said. “Somebody took it.” He looked down sheepishly. “Actually…. it was me,” he confessed. “I put it in the car. For Vermont!” I started to protest, but couldn’t muster the strength. Luckily, he’s working up north all week so I’ve got plenty of time to make a few things disappear.