Stuff at the Torpy home awaiting Bill and Julie Torpy’s decision on whether it stays or goes. 
Photo: Bill Torpy / AJC
Photo: Bill Torpy / AJC

Torpy at Large: You see clutter, I see cool old stuff. Lots of it

My wife says I’ll feel better by letting go, that all these possessions I’ve spent a lifetime accumulating, boxing, hauling and clinging to are holding me back.

Holding me back from what, I’m not sure, but there is a renewed wave to get Americans to declutter their lives.

Julie has bought into that movement and has systematically worked through our house to “offload” — her word — lots of our stuff.

Actually, it’s mostly been her stuff. When I see something of mine in the garbage, I’ll often pluck it out, examine it and decide whether it needs to be landfill bound.

Last week, there was some out-of-date sunscreen in the hopper after a recent purge. All I saw was me heading out to CVS in June to buy new sunscreen. However, after catching a caustic glance, I dutifully dropped the bottle back into the can.

I’m no hoarder. I’m not one of those folks who save gum wrappers and have to squeeze through canyons of belongings at home. I just believe that items should be discarded only if frayed, cracked or missing an appendage.

As Americans, we love stuff. George Carlin once did a bit on the subject, saying that homes are merely grand containers to store our stuff. And there’s an entire $38 billion-a-year industry set up — the self-storage racket — that allows one in 10 U.S. households to hang onto more stuff than their homes can hold.

Currently, there’s the wildly successful book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” written by a Japanese organizing consultant named Marie Kondo, who dishes out tough love coupled with New Agey Eastern mysticism to help people get rid of their junk.

Readers have taken to the book because, like with diet or exercise books, we all like it when someone preaches to us about something we already know we should be doing.

“Emotionally, you just feel better,” Julie told me after a recent cleanout of her office. It is now sparse and organized, and enough paper was recycled to restock an aisle at Office Depot.

My desk at work remains covered with heaping piles of government reports, lawsuits and reporter notebooks. I’m vaguely aware of what is where, but increasingly less so as it accumulates. There was an edict from management to clean our desks and I’m still getting around to it. Procrastination is a column for another day.

Bill Torpy calls this, “My stuff and me on the TV.” When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a TV advertising campaign, they shot a bunch of photos of reporters — including one of Torpy working behind his piles of government reports, lawsuit documents and reporter notebooks — to show how hard journalists work.
Photo: Lou Zaffos

But when the AJC did a TV advertising campaign, they shot a bunch of photos of reporters, including one of me working behind my piles of junk (I mean research) to show how hard we work.

Back home, we (meaning my wife) have systematically worked room by room on this mission.

Ms. Kondo’s first move to declutter is to start with the clothes. You’re supposed to toss them all in one pile and, as she says, keep only what “gives you a spark of joy.”

Now, I’ve never been much of a fashionista, so clothes don’t do much sparking with me. I’m more of a utilitarian, two-for-one, post-Christmas Macy’s sale kind of guy. Then I’ll wear those clothes until they go out of fashion. And then come back in.

But I suppose I got rid of a third of my duds, most of which weren’t worth dragging to Goodwill.

Julie, on the other hand, covered the entire floor of a bedroom with her fashions and filled up numerous hefty bags. I kept telling her that shoulder pads would make a comeback, but she’s not as patient on waiting for fashion trends to churn.

Julie Torpy and some of her decluttering.
Photo: Bill Torpy / AJC

After dealing with clothes, the declutterers are supposed to tackle books, then papers, then something called “komono,” which translates to stuff in your bathrooms, kitchens and garage.

I’ve noticed that I have started reading almost all of my books. Finishing is another story. Ms. Kondo says if you don’t finish a book, you never will. I, however, remain aspirational, so giving up on them is more difficult. However, we did bring boxes of them to the Book Nook and got credit for new used books that can sit on our shelves unread.

One strategy is to toss stuff you haven’t used for a while. I often counter with the story of the old cardboard boxes that I carted around for years, to three or four homes I lived in, finally opening them when we arrived in 1997 to the home where we still live.

It turns out that inside those beat-up boxes were sets of vintage 1950s gold leaf cocktail glasses wrapped in newspapers from 1966, the year when my parents moved. Turns out they remained forgotten for 30 years. I learned that throwing out “junk” is fraught with danger.

The basement room waiting to get tidied by the Torpys.
Photo: Bill Torpy / AJC

The final frontier — after our garage, kitchen and bathrooms — will be the basement storage room that has become our de facto, emergency toss-it-in-there repository for stuff that has no other place. That includes most of my memorabilia.

The mantra now is to “process your past” — that is, before before discarding lots of it.

Being a pack rat by DNA, I still not only have my yearbooks, but my father’s yearbooks, books with pictures of schoolkids he often talked about who then went into World War II.

I’ve kept cute stuff my kids wrote, a zillion photos in no particular order, my 1960s hockey game with tin players operated on levers, my coin collection, stamp collection and baseball card collection. When I have last perused them, I have no clue.

There’s a box of framed 8-by-10 baby pictures of my now adult daughter that decorated the home of my wife’s now-deceased grandma. Those pics will surely never go up anywhere again, but …

More stuff in the Torpys’ basement. Lots of newspapers to sort through, like 40 years worth. And photos!
Photo: Bill Torpy / AJC

And there’s newspapers. Lots of them. From World War II, Kennedy’s assassination, moon shots, and lots of headlines that I kept from when I delivered them on my Schwinn Stingray — which still sits in my mom’s basement.

The AJC computer says I’ve written 3,105 stories since coming here in 1990. In the two papers before that, I probably wrote another 2,000. I’d wager I still have half of my stories. And double copies of the good ones.

Culling and organizing all that is a Sisyphean task I’ve pondered and put off for years, decades even. Meanwhile, I’m still writing and adding to the piles.

I’m waiting for that rainy day to start on them.

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