Decluttering can be a costly proposition

Decluttering can be a costly proposition

There I was, contemplating how I could steal something back from a local thrift shop and asking myself, “How did I get here?”

Let’s back up a few days.

About a month ago, on the first sunny Saturday in a while, I felt energized to do some spring cleaning.

This doesn’t come easy for me. I save everything. My house could be one of those “before” pictures on

But I sorted. I culled. I organized. It was a wondrous thing.

I happily piled several bags of clothes and other belongings into the car, destined for the thrift shop, imagining how proud my neatnik friends would be.

In my “clean sweep” fervor, I grabbed an old pair of my daughter’s tennis shoes on the way out.
I hesitated for a nanosecond, wondering if she had actually outgrown these particular shoes. But it seems to happen on a monthly basis, and they were in the “not sure what to do with these things” pile in the breezeway. So I ignored that little warning bell in my head.

Always a mistake.

It wasn’t until the following Monday, driving home from work, when one of those bolts of clarity hit me out of the blue: I had given away her $120 running shoes, which quite possibly might still fit her.

To be fair, she had not worn them since cross-country season last fall. And she had outgrown another pair of tennis shoes in the meantime.

And (if we’re going to be truthful here) I’m probably not the one who left them in the breezeway. Not that I’m blaming anyone else.

But I had a vague memory of buying them a half-size too big so they’d be sure to fit her when spring track season rolled around. Which was, like, now.

So when I got home, in a very cool and casual way, I asked her, “Hey, do your running shoes still fit you?”

“I think so,” she said, instantly alert. “Why? Where are they?”

“I don’t know,” I answered carefully, calculating that I didn’t know exactly where they were at that moment.
I slid away, wondering if I could break into the thrift store that night.

But I waited until the next morning, after the kids went to school, figuring the shoes probably didn’t hit the shelves until Monday and hadn’t been sold yet. I could buy them back before my daughter knew they were gone.

The store wasn’t open yet, but I could see people inside. I knocked on the door and a woman came over to talk to me through the glass. I explained my dilemma, but she wouldn’t let me in, and at first she wasn’t going to even bother checking. I guess most people don’t want their stuff back.

She eventually agreed to look through the shelves and the piles of unsorted shoes in the back. She brought back a similar pair, but not the right one. After I explained that these were expensive running shoes, her expression changed.

“Oh, they’re gone,” she said. “We have people come through here three times a day just to see what comes in.”

My daughter was understanding. We bought a new pair of shoes, which thankfully weren’t as expensive as the first.

But I should have already learned my lesson. The day I manage to finally part with something is usually the day before I need it.

A certain purple, duck-billed platypus comes to mind. My son had to have a platypus one Christmas (I can’t even remember why), and the only one I could find was a purple Beanie Baby. I kept it for years, but finally donated it to charity with a bunch of other stuffed animals.

Not long after that we were looking up the value of a few of my daughter’s teddy bears, and we noticed that most Beanie Babies weren’t worth much — except the platypus. Which was priced at $150.

Then came the infamous firetruck incident. A year ago my niece brought her 3-year-old son to town for a visit. He loves firetrucks, so to win him over I told him all about the Rescue Heroes firetruck and police car I’d saved from my son’s younger days (along with countless other toys). He couldn’t wait to play with them.

I found the Rescue Heroes helicopter, the Rescue Heroes jet, a bin full of action figures and even the Rescue Heroes Aquatic Rescue Command Center. No police car and firetruck.

I assured him that his cousins would know where to find them when they got home from school.

He was relentless. Before my son could even get in the car, the 3-year-old asked, “Do you know where the police car and firetruck are?” He greeted my daughter with the same question.

We went home and searched the basement again, the garage, the breezeway, everywhere we could think of. No luck.

We kept trying to distract him with other toys. Finally, sitting at the top of our basement steps, he said sadly, “I don’t think you ever had a police car or firetruck.”

I have no idea what happened to them. I had a sentimental attachment to the police car, which my son had actually slept with the night he got it as a birthday gift — a night seared in my memory because the siren Blog Photowent off every 10 minutes.

I don’t think I donated it; besides, it had a broken wheel. I do remember thinking that he had never played much with the firetruck, though, so who knows?

My niece and her kids came back for a visit earlier this month. Sure enough, her son, now 4, asked ahead of time if we’d ever found that stinkin’ firetruck.

This time, we were ready. My husband went on Ebay and found an old Rescue Heroes firetruck for $10. It arrived the same day the 4-year-old did. The look on his face was priceless.

We let him take it home, figuring that the old one will turn up now that we bought a new one.

And while I have not abandoned my quest to be clutter-free, I am proceeding cautiously. It’s an expensive proposition.


Update: Shortly after this column ran on Tuesday, we found a surprise gift outside out back door. Yes, the fire truck. And the police car. It seems I'd loaned them to a friend several years ago because her nephew also loved rescue vehicles.

They say the memory is the first thing to go ....


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for the News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or

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