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It's too bad you can't take it with you

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe

Lynne D. Schwabe was owner of Schwabe-May of Charleston, ran her own marketing consulting firm and is a nationally recognized motivational speaker. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Women's Wear Daily, and has appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch. She is now director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at

Jack Benny once famously said, "If I can't take it with me, I'm not going."

This made me think about all the STUFF that's in my life and why I need so much of it. I have always aspired to live in an all-white, spare, very modern apartment, with all the counter tops gleaming with nothing, nothing on them. Of course, in this dream, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

In real life, I live in a three-bedroom condo. There are large, double closets in each bedroom, a large coat closet, two linen closets and a roomy closet for the washer and dryer. Every closet is stuffed to the gills with clothes. There are shoes in each that cover every square inch of floor space and are stacked to about a foot high. I can't find anything, and if I find a shoe that I want to wear, I'll never be able to find the other one.

There is more stuff under the beds: pictures that aren't hung, pictures that need to be framed, a thingie that makes sides on a queen-sized bed so that when my granddaughter is here, she won't fall out of bed. There are more shoes, empty mayonnaise jars and my mayonnaise jar lid collection. 

In my office, which also functions as a repository for any slip of paper within two miles, I have stored the Christmas and birthday presents, the over-sized dishes, all of my father's scrapbooks reflecting his career as a symphony orchestra conductor, all my own scrapbooks, reflecting my attempts at being a wife and mother, 17 boxes of mismatched stationery and the cat box.

Bookcases are brimming with books, read and unread. I had shelves built lining my garage, and they overflow with unused dishes, pots and pans, plastic storage containers with lids that don't fit, my two tools (a screwdriver and a pair of hedge clippers), and all the records of the now-defunct Schwabe-May. For God's sake, my mother and father's cremains sit majestically in the corner of my bedroom, patiently waiting for me to take them to their final repose. My father's been dead since 1989, if that gives you any idea of how far behind schedule I am.

Obviously, I have clutter issues, and although I don't think I'm at the Collyer brothers' level — yet — perhaps it's time for me to call my clutter buddy.  I may need to find a new one, as the old one threw up her hands in despair and fled after she saw the 64 boxes descriptively labeled, "Lynne" that followed me through the last five moves. She mumbled something about my house resembling a Booth cartoon as she made her escape.

I really am not a hoarder, but I hate throwing away things that are perfectly good, possibly have sentimental value or that perhaps you could sell for $1 in a yard sale: stubs of candles that are great to start fires, a bracelet made out of gum wrappers that my daughter carefully crafted, lime green gym shoes that I've worn once because they gave me blisters. My good friend, Edith Smith, tries to talk good sense into me. "You don't need to accumulate things that you can always get," she said firmly. I think she was referring to my mayonnaise jar collection. "You don't need 17 measuring cups," she cries. "Why does anyone need 17 measuring cups?"

And, while we're belaboring the subject, why do I need clothes that I haven't worn in two years? Somehow, because things are in perfectly good condition is an excuse that's beginning to wear thin in direct proportion to my dwindling closet space. Why do I keep buying large serving platters (ones that serve 12-20) when I can only seat eight at my dining room table? And, will I really ever need the knee braces that Dr. Tony Magestro carefully prescribed for me after two disastrous falls? Or the "good dishes" that reside, wrapped in packing material on the shelf in my garage, unused for 20 years?

The perfectly white, modern apartment with entirely clean surfaces, where even the toothpaste is put away after each use, is receding farther and farther from possibility. A really thorough cleaning and reorganizing should do it, and I will throw away most of my mayonnaise jars.

Mom and Dad, sitting so patiently in the corner of the bedroom, definitely need affirmative action! I'm sure I am in this predicament because they didn't take it with them, a lesson I am struggling to accept.

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