In addition to being one of the world’s greatest procrastinators, my father saves everything. Not like those people who save string or rubber bands just in case they might need them someday. He just never seems to get around to things.
It wasn’t so bad when my mother was alive. They had an unwritten agreement: She would keep the house clean and tidy, and he would make sure the lawn and yard looked their best. When she passed away, at the entirely too young age of forty-three, he continued to keep up his part of the bargain. But it was as if he still expected my mother to keep up hers.
For years newspaper and magazine articles began to pile up on any flat surface in the house. Receipts would end up in stacks on the nightstand where he would leave them as he got undressed in the evenings. The foyer would collect hats, coats and umbrellas. Even gifts he received would pile up, still in the boxes in which they had been wrapped.
Every once in a while he would make an effort to straighten up if I was coming home from university between sessions or if relatives planned to stop by on their way to Ocean City. But for the most part he was content to simply let things fall where they may. The exception being when his mother and father came to live with us. But once they died he went back to taking care of the lawn and ignoring the interior, which quickly became lost in some sort of time warp or memorial to the 1970s.
When I moved back from California in 1995, my father was gracious enough to let me stay with him until I found a job and a place to live. It was obvious he had made an effort to clear some space for me in my old bedroom, but that was it. In an effort to make myself useful, and to earn my keep, I would clean up what I could, but I knew that any attempt to deal with his personal items would be met with resistance. However, this didn’t dissuade me from offering to help.
Occasionally I would ask him if I could help by cleaning the basement or some other cluttered space, but each time I was met with some variation of the same reply: “That’s my winter project,” he would say. When the winter would pass with more items being added to the clutter than removed, I would ask again. “I’ll take care of that stuff when I retire,” he would claim. This seemed more plausible for some reason, so I let him be. I had found my own place by this time, and he was going to retire the next year.
Once he retired I would occasionally ask him how the cleanup was coming, and whether I could help. Each time I would be told that cleaning up the house was the very next thing on his agenda. Without pushing him too much, I would keep reminding him that I was willing to roll up my sleeves and help him tackle the project. Encouraging him by stating that we could probably take care of the entire house in just a few short weekends. But that never seemed to be enough of an incentive for him to budge.