In recognition of Dan’s presenting sponsorship of the East Hampton Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game on August 21, we are giving local artists and writers a free rein to write whatever they want in this space for the summer. This week, Emmy-winning TV host and author Bill Boggs talks about clutter and memories.
Here’s to Clutter!
Every year brings an avalanche of new books, newspaper, online articles and television coverage telling us to rid our lives of clutter. You know what I mean, all that stuff you’ve been holding onto for decades.
We’re warned of its deadly evils:
“Clutter and hernias—the painful connection.”
“A crowded attic—the psychological toll.”
“Hoarder crushed by rubbish!”
Ok, I get it. But …
Maybe, just maybe, you could look at it this way—there in your storage locker, or in the boxes piled in your basement, or in those plastic containers on top of that old sled, or somewhere in the newspapers and magazines heaped next to your sadly worn-out 45-RPM record player are triggers that could evoke some of the most powerful memories of your life.
This past March, I had to address the issue of confronting all the possessions I’d kept in the past 60 years. It was finally the time to remove everything from the family home where I’d grown up in Philadelphia, to prepare it for sale. I’d moved there when I was 7 years old. Since graduate school at Penn in 1964, the basement in that beloved house was where I’d taken all that I thought worthy of saving. “Are you nuts, why are you keeping that?” my friends would ask.
To say that I dreaded doing this job—not just the dealing with the towering cartons of my “stuff,” but the clearing of the entire house of every single object—is an acute understatement. I saw this as a challenge rivaled only by my eight weeks of Army basic training during a brutal winter at Ft. Knox, my five-hour bi-lateral hip replacement surgery at HSS or my drive from Midtown Manhattan at 5 p.m. on a Friday in August trying to make an 8 p.m. curtain at Guild Hall. (No way, but I made the 10 p.m. dinner at The Palm.)
That anxiety, it turned out, was unfounded.
I’d given myself loads of time to do the job, so there’d be no high-pressure rush to make the date when we’d list the house for sale. When I started working on emptying boxes, sure I found some things that were indeed, crazy to save—like the framed award from the Worm Growers Association of America, who must have appeared on one of my shows, or a badge gifted to me on another program stating I was a special narcotics agent. I don’t think I ever wore that one to Studio 54.
The current cultural narrative demands that we clear out, de-clutter, tidy up and get rid of all but needed possessions. And yet, most of what I uncovered in those boxes provided a counter argument: There was joy in those letters, telegrams, ticket stubs, playbills, desk calendars, newspaper clippings, invitations, journals, trinkets, business cards, photographs, posters, scripts, post cards and on and on.
It’s possible, I realized, to relive and experience events simply by holding an object. The artifacts were self-affirming evidence to me of a life and a career well lived, and I walked down a memory lane of the eras they recalled. At one point, my eyes welled up realizing, “the childhood dreams I had for myself in this house came true.” Lucky me, I know, and I walk in gratitude for my blessings.
One packed old briefcase held a special allure—photos from 1978–83, my first years in Sagaponack. I had a small two-bedroom beachfront cottage with my pal, Bob Levine. It was in a perfect location behind a very high dune on the former 40-acre beachfront farm of John White. There’s a book, or a movie, or a play, or something to tell in the wild, wonderful stories from those hedonistic summers, and their painful long drives back to work on Monday mornings for a Midday Live TV show.
Bob and his wife Joan now have a wonderful home in Northwest Harbor in East Hampton, and my girlfriend Jane Rothchild and I are in Springs. With us down in the basement, moved from Philadelphia and newly-stored in plastic bins, is the story of my life in those letters, telegrams, tickets stubs, journals, postcards and on and on.
Bill Boggs, who lives in Springs, is an Emmy-winning TV host, producer, professional speaker, as well as the author of three books. His latest is the acclaimed satirical novel, The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog: As Told to Bill Boggs. It’s available at Amazon, bookstores and anywhere books are sold. Find Boggs on BillBoggsTV on YouTube, on Instagram @realbillboggs and at billboggs.com.