Friday, February 10, 2012

Grandpa's Attic

I've had this philosophy, "more is always better," for some time now and I've been trying to figure out where it started or why I've even thought this. I mean, everyone around me are minimalist and clearly with a philosophy like mine, I am not. So, I've been thinking again. Why am I a 'maximumalist'?  A couple of things have popped up in me over the last couple of weeks.

I grew up in New York City, but my maternal grandparents, for most of my life, lived in New Jersey. Going to visit the grandparents was an amazing adventure. Being a family of nine we only vacationed once a year, (to the Jersey Shore), or visited the grandparents for the weekend. I remember their condo well. Aside from my grandfather absolutely loving us, treating us to ice cream and cookies galore, and swimming in the massive condo pool, I would have to say visiting his attic was the highlight of the weekend.

My grandfather was born in 1914, and as for many people who grew up during the Great Depression they were resolute on never suffering again. My Grandfather was one of those people. In his retirement my grandfather spent most of his days shopping. He was a bargain hunter for sure. He went to the after-Christmas sales and bought up the bows, ribbons, lights, Santas, etc. (Honestly, I still have some of the stuff he gave me and that was back in the '90's).  He clipped coupons, ran to every sale, stocked up on toilet paper, soap, paper towels, detergents, basically anything that would not expire. My 'China' dishware set is from a sale he found at the supermarket. The year was 1976- the bicentennial of our countries freedom. He collected a dish each week for months, and stored it up in the attic, and of course, he didn't even need a dishware set! (Years after his death my grandmother came across the box in the attic and gave it to me. I cherish the set deeply).

So, getting back to my adventures in the attic. He would send me up the narrow pull-down stairs, I'd turn on the light and he'd yell to me, "Okay Ellie, go right and you'll see the toilet paper! Start throwing down, oh, about twenty packages!" I'd run, find the treasures and start throwing them down the stairs. Then he'd yell up the stairs again, "Alright, this time, find the paper towels! You'll find them over in the left hand corner!" I'd run the other direction and wait for the number. "Throw down 25 rolls!" this continued for, I don't know, what seemed like an hour. When I was given the order, "We're done!"  I'd  climb down the ladder and see all the items neatly piled up by the door. Then he'd say, "Okay, now let's load up your station wagon-you're taking it home!"

Traveling in the back of the station wagon among all the wonderful treasures, (using them as a mattress, pillows and a fort), I laid back, closed my eyes and could see my grandfathers glowing face of excitement. He delighted in blessing my family and I delighted in being delighted upon.

I never really thought that that part of my childhood had an impact on me. That time in my grandfather's attic was what I thought just a sweet memory, but it wasn't until recently that I realized that it had a more profound effect on me.

About twenty-five years after my last visit up those stairs to Grandpa's attic, my husband and I were in a toy store. He wanted to buy Duplo Legos for our little boy. We argued about it because we already owned a bunch of the Duplo Lego's at home. What could we possibly do with more? My husband's reply with the sweetest, happiest face, and saying it as if my son would have said it to me,  "Mommy, more is always better." I stood there in the store, staring at his glowing face of excitement, immediately I had a flash of my grandfather and thought, "Yes, he's right. More is better. He'll be able to be more creative because he'll have more."  So, we both went off happily and bought more.

Once we started homeschooling I thought, "We need more of a variety of toys to stimulate, and expose them. More books. More educational videos. I am also an educator and after seeing what little exposure my students had at home, (other than the television) and how far behind they were academically I was determined to have a variety of toys, educational toys, and books for children to experiment with.

Fast forward:six children + a"more is better"philosophy=cluttered house.

I really didn't realize that my kids didn't need the 'extra large' set of Tinker Toys, three sets of Lincoln Logs, many, many, many baby doll outfits, innumerable amount of play food, thousands of Legos, I have no idea how many Hot Wheel cars, books, books, books- puzzles, puzzles, puzzles---are you getting the picture?

Now for some of it, the "more" worked out. Having six children there are certain things that I am glad that we have a lot of so they can really build stuff and be creative. I am also glad for the variety of toys too because I can switch out toys and it always feels like we have something new in the house to play with. I have often thought of down sizing the toys, but then I think of my younger ones who have never had a chance to play with this stuff.  I also think of  'Joy School' (Joy School is a little Pre-K program I created) and how my students are able to use all the toys. Basically, I'm having a tough time getting rid of stuff.

So, how does one go from a mentality of  'having more and saving it all' to 'having less and giving away? Well, as with every issue of change God brings me through there always seems to be a root hurt or fear that propels me to do things I no longer want to do. And like the root of my Grandfather's obsession of 'more is better' the same is the root of mine--fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of being abandoned and left with nothing. Fear that I'm worthless. (I grew up with few toys and most times not even the toys that I asked for. It left me believing that I was not worth any one's time or money to go out and buy me what I really wanted). Fear is such a powerfully dangerous emotion. It has gotten me to not just buy things, but to buy in duplicate! It has gotten me to believe that if I purchase this item my kids will be happier and smarter. It's gotten me to believe that I'll be accepted and  I'll have when there is no more.

I don't want to fear anymore. I want to be free.
Truly, easier said then done because this is a God thing.
I can't just snap my fingers and voila! I'm free from fear.

But God is so good to me. He has been slowly showing me how to release the grasp I have on stuff -even stuff that brings back a good memory. God is asking me to trust Him with the memories, and with the fears of abandonment.

So, Lord, I surrender. I make this decision to surrender to you all the fears that have been passed down from my sweet Grandfather and those that I have added on along the way. Help me let go of the fear and embrace faith. Faith to believe that You will provide. Faith to believe that I am accepted. Faith to believe that you love me no matter what.  Help me know that you will always provide for me and my family and we will never be in want.


  1. I remember that attic! I always thought it was so cool! And it def was an adventure going up there.

  2. wow! I had no idea you ever went up-you were so little when Grandpa (Great Grandpa) passed away. He was a good man, and a great provider!