It was 60 degrees on a Sunday in March, so my wife and I were cleaning out our garage and patio in preparation for my son’s 10th birthday. The plan was to have a Nerf-themed birthday party where kids would basically run around the backyard, patio, and garage shooting each other. I’m not going to say that it was my ideal party theme, but Tristan’s friend did the same thing for his party a few months earlier, and it’s all he’d talked about since.
Above all, it was good motivation to do a little spring cleaning.
The problem with the garage is that it had overflowed onto the patio. My wife and I live in a small home in Oregon. It’s just less than 1,000 square feet. It’s three bedrooms, and we have three kids. We are a little packed in. To make things worse, despite living in three different states during the course of our marriage, we’re not all that good at getting rid of stuff. We just keep hauling the same boxes from one home to another, never really taking the time to part with anything.
I’m not going to say that we are hoarders. It’s more that we just can’t let go of all that shit from the ’90s.
Mel opened up a box. It was full of her old prom dresses. She squealed a little and pulled one out. It was a baby blue thing, smooth and shiny, with puffy shoulders. Then she pulled out another. This one was black with rainbow sparkly glittery button things sewn onto it. She reminisced about what year in high school she wore this dress, and then that dress, who her date was, how beautiful she felt.
I had a hard time relating. I didn’t attend my proms. I was too anti-establishment in high school. Just before we found the box of prom dresses, we found an old Army jacket I wore almost every day in high school. Pinned to the back with safety pins were frayed punk band patches. There was a little blood on the sleeve, probably from wiping away acne.
I’m in my mid-30s now. I’ve got three kids and a career. I’d never wear that thing outside ever again, and thankfully acne is no longer an issue I’m plagued with. Nevertheless, I put it on. It still fit, luckily. And for a moment I felt like a total badass again.
Ultimately, I’d done this a few times over the years: find my old jacket, put it on, feel like a rough-and-tumble teen again, and then put it back in the box. That feeling is why I’ve held on to it for over 15 years. That’s why I’ve hauled around my old snowboards and skateboards and knitted beanies with punk band logos. Not because they have any practical value, but because they make me feel that carefree tough-guy feeling I had in high school. Not that I was all those things. Looking back at pictures of myself, I was this small kid, with long bleached blond hair, and really, really, large JNCO jeans, trying desperately to look like something more, but that’s not how I felt.
There was a moment when Mel was holding up her old prom dresses, clearly trying to decide if they would still fit, and I was wearing my old punk jacket, both of us looking like a couple 30-somethings trying to be 20-somethings. Only it wasn’t 1998 anymore. It was 2017. If an outsider had entered that garage, we’d have looked like that guy we all knew in the late ’90s who still had a mullet and listened to White Snake at full volume while cruising around in a rusty Camaro. We’d have looked like a couple people who simply hadn’t let go of that decade where we felt the coolest.
“We have to get rid of this stuff,” I said. “We’ve been hauling it around for years. We even stored it at your parents for a while. We don’t need it.”
Mel was holding up another dress now. This one was purple. “What if Norah wants it?” she said. “She might want to wear it to her prom.”
I laughed a little. “I don’t think Norah is going to want to wear your prom dresses from the ’90s. That’s like saying Tristan is going to wear my punk jacket to his first day of high school. Half these bands don’t even exist anymore. We need to let it go.”
I could see in Mel’s eyes that what I was saying made sense, but at the same time, she was also not ready to part with this little slice of her childhood. But ultimately, this is one of those not-always-discussed parts of adulthood. Sure, having kids, buying a house, finishing college, all of that is part of it, but another huge part is sliding into a pair of slacks and a work polo. It’s buying a minivan even though you look like an old fart, but it is, without a doubt, the most practical way to get your kids around town. It looks like yoga pants and Crocs on a Saturday grocery shopping trip. It looks like fitting the part. It looks like letting go of those silly things you thought were so cool as a kid (your CD collection, your prom dress, your punk jacket) and looking and acting like a nerdy 30-something adult.
In so many ways, it sucks. But the reality is, it has to happen. It’s all about embracing your role as a parent, provider, and caregiver, same as you embraced the scene you loved in high school.
Ultimately, my jacket, along with my snowboards and hats and Bad Religion T-shirts ended up in the back of our van, boxed up for donation. So did a number of Mel’s prom dresses. She held on to two, claiming that our daughters might want to use them for dress-up. But really, I just think she wanted to hold on to them for sentimental reasons, and that’s fine.
There was a Goodwill donation trailer down the street from our house. I dropped off our things. Then I sat and watched as two elderly volunteers loaded them into the trailer as though they were just another donation, and not our memories of childhood. I’m not typically a sentimental guy, but it stung a little to see them go.
But because I’m a dad in my mid-30s, it was all worth it to have a clean, organized garage.