The Key West Mystique

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Key West clutter

Key West clutter | Or, how to downsize — again

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

09/23/2023

It has become embarrassingly obvious I can no longer roll my eyes when I stumble into a pile of stuff Ranger Ed says he might need someday. What I call Key West clutter when it’s HIS stuff morphs into priceless stuffed pillows and ancient quilts with threadbare memories when it’s my stuff.

I have dined out for years retelling humorous tidbits of how the good ranger carts around boxes of tools, photos and clothing from high school. I bug him annually to clean out the double-wide storage unit we have over on Catherine Street because, of course, all that clutter must be his, right?

He’s the pack rat, I say, shaking my head over another junk drawer that’s evolved out of what was my neatly organized, labeled and compartmentalized utility drawer. I’m the one, I say, who can toss stuff into a garbage can, call a curb alert or schlep it to the Salvation Army without so much as looking inside. That’s the rule, right? If you have no idea what’s in the box, haven’t opened it in two decades and it’s got stickers tracking two household moves, then just toss.

Through half a dozen house moves we carted around railroad rails, not ties, the actual metal rails, because, well, because I’m not actually sure, but it had something to do with you never know when you’ll need one. We toted hundreds of board feet of walnut and cherry. Ed had cut down those trees back when he was in college, had them milled, built furniture, including pieces we use every day. You never know when you’re gonna need a storage unit’s worth of well-cured, perfectly grained walnut.

When we moved to Key West, we downsized by two-thirds, rented that double-wide storage unit, put stuff in the attic and tidied up so we (make that I) didn’t see it. We added a back porch, which we promised would not become more storage and promptly turned it into the “basement” for a power washer, camping equipment, hurricane supplies, two of those room-sized storage bins and lovely climbing and hiding places for the cats.

Each year I show Ed the bill for the storage unit and remind him that when we multiply it times more than a decade, we’re talking a serious chunk of change. “How about you sort it out,” I’d suggest (some would say “nag”), “since it’s mostly your stuff anyway.”

Key West Island News
Ranger Ed made dozens of trips up and down that attic ladder. When it was done, only three boxes went back up.

Key West clutter | Downsizing again in Key West

This summer when the cost resembled a couple of mortgage payments, Ranger Ed agreed. He’s tackled the storage unit, the attic, “the basement” and the inside closets. Crikey, he’s even sorted thousands of printed photographs and slides into manageable piles using four rules: (1) toss pictures with unrecognizable people; (2) toss photos in which there are no people; (3) toss duplicates; and (4) the most important one: toss photos in which people look less than their best, especially me.

Tuesday I left him standing on the attic ladder tossing boxes and vacuum-sealed bags into the living room. Good job, Ranger Ed; you’re getting into the spirit of this. Then I came home and looked at the piles of attic stuff.

Oh, dear.

Ranger Ed isn’t the pack rat problem child. There’s a giant box of my shoes. There are a dozen decorative stuffed pillows and hand-sewn quilts of collector’s quality deserving of a wall of their own — someday, somewhere. Oh, look, there’s Baby Lee’s little toys and the doll my grandmother knitted for him when he was born and which he carried around forever. (I’d say he carried it to college, but we all know that didn’t happen.) There’s…. Oh, I’m not going to go on.

Some critter made a family home in my grandmother’s delicately crocheted tablecloths and bed linens. They’re in the trash; no decision needed.

As soon as I finish this I have to go around the corner and face those piles in the living room. If I follow my rule, it’ll be easy. I had no idea this stuff was still around, can’t remember most of it anyway and haven’t even wondered about it for at least a decade. Just waltz that stuff to the curb.

We know what’s going to happen. I’m going to open a box and say, “You know, we might use this someday.”

I owe Ranger Ed an apology. His table saw and multiple shovels don’t much contribute to our clutter woes. The shoes, pillows, party favors, winter sweaters of pre-Covid sizes and fabric I never turned into those dresses I wanted are going. I am keeping the walnut cradle he made before Lee was born. So there.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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