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Spring Cleaning Gone Wrong: You threw that away?

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THINK BEFORE YOU TOSS An overzealous spring-cleaning session can come back to haunt us. (Illustration:

Are you in spring cleaning mode? Stop and read: We’re here to save you a little heartache.

My mom remembers a time maybe 30 years ago when her spring cleaning went awry. “I took a coat to the Salvation Army,” she remembers. “A couple of days later, Dad said, ‘Where’s my new cashmere coat?’ and I said, ‘It’s in the closet,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s my old coat.’ And I went, ‘Oooh my goodness…’”

Dad says, “She called the Salvation Army, and of course they didn’t know – or care – what she was talking about but told her to come on down and see what you can find.”

“So I go running over there,” my mom tells me, “and there’s the coat in a pile on the floor with a $3 tag on it. And then I had the nerve to fuss at them about having it on sale for $3!”

“I don’t think she had to pay the $3 to get the coat back, but I’m not totally sure,” Dad laughs.

Tiffany Smith and her mom Mary Evelynn Sorrell remember what they call “a family legend.”

“In 1923, my great-great-grandparents, Forrest and Mary Ellen Hodges were preparing to move from Marshall, Texas to Houston,” Tiffany says. “Legend has it that after selling their Marshall house and mostly packing it up, Forrest and [his son Clarence] left Marshall first, taking [his daughter Norma Faye] with them. That left sweet, shy Mary Ellen alone to finish packing. This was not a decision she was crazy about, so she quickly packed up the rest and called on people who might be interested in purchasing, or simply removing, items she felt they no longer needed. Then she hopped on a train to Houston.

“Unfortunately, part of that was a large trunk of my then-recently deceased great-great-great-grandfather’s books. Mary Ellen sold them for $2 to a rummage man. As my romantic great-great-aunt Norma Faye would tell it, those books consisted of a ‘vast’ library of precious first-edition tomes. The family has mourned its loss all these years, now going on 100 years to be exact. Truth is, we’ll never know what was in that trunk. But it’s always been a fun story for the family to tell.”

Some regrets started with intentional clean-outs. “If I knew in the ’80s that my clothes would be in style in 2023, I would have kept all my tie dyes and bell-bottoms!” Wendy Burgower says. And Laura McCullough says, “I’d give anything to have my record albums from the ’80s back.”

But about those mistakes, Tevia McLaren is practical: “I can’t think about it. What’s done is done, and I have to move on.”

Moving on is just what tidying expert Marie Kondo has been doing. Kondo became an icon with her bestselling 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and in 2019, the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Recently, she admitted that tidying isn’t her top priority these days, now that she’s welcomed a third child. She shared, at a recent event, as reported by the Washington Post: “I have kind of given up on that in a good way for me. Now I realize what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home.” Her confession created shock waves among devotees, while validating the not-so-tidy – especially parents.

When Allison Wagner thought she’d lost her winter wardrobe, she had to shift her priorities, too.  “I lived in Seattle for six years, and I was moving to Berlin in August,” she says. “I had a lot of stuff in Seattle to move. So when I went home for July 4, I brought a bag filled with all my winter clothes. I wasn’t going to need them that last month in Seattle. When I got to Wimberley, where my parents have a house, I dumped all the clothes out of my suitcase so I could use it to bring another load home next month, and I put the clothes in one giant black trash bag.” You can guess the rest of the story. “In August, I was home in Houston, moving to Berlin, and I’m packing and I’m like Gosh, where are my nice boots? Where is my blue coat? And then it hits me: it’s all in that garbage bag. To which we realized, we probably threw it away!

“I came to accept it. I moved to Berlin without a single winter clothing item. I lasted like a month, then I really needed boots and a coat!” Allison replaced her clothes and stayed warm in Berlin. But when she came home this past Christmas and the family went to Wimberley, “My mom [Terese Wagner] asked me to bring something to the guest house. I went inside, and out of the corner of my eye I see a garbage bag in the closet, and I’m like No way. And I see a bright blue thing – my coat! Everything is there. I even made a video for my friends because I had been complaining to them that my parents threw everything away. It was kind of like a Christmas miracle.”

The moral of the story? Keep spring cleaning in check. Don’t let it turn into something that might become next year’s Christmas miracle.

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