Bye, Bye Baby: Letting Go of Sentimental Clutter

It was 1997, and I was in upstate New York, hanging with my BBFs for a fun and relaxing girls’ weekend.

I was young enough to have not yet experienced the verb “parenting,” but old enough to enjoy an afternoon of the somewhat pretentious verb “antiquing.”

In a dusty little shop all the way in the back, I spied a vintage sideboard. It was a distressed “shabby chic” piece with a modern twist — it had been painted a sweet blue and had grass-green doors with a pair of faded coral flower appliqués on either side.

That would be a really cute changing table, I thought.

Let me just say I was not that baby-crazy girl. I never cradled my dolls as a kid — hell, I didn’t even own dolls because I am afraid of them (along with puppets, clowns, and carnies) — and avoided sitting actual babies like the plague. I didn’t even particularly like caring for little children; my go-to bunks as a camp counselor were any that had kids ages 13 and up.

So the errant thought of buying a piece of baby furniture was exceptionally random for me.

Still, as the afternoon wore on, I couldn’t stop thinking about that piece. And before the day ended, I found myself propelled by a fully out of character whim to plunk down my credit card and pay a small fortune to purchase the sideboard and have it delivered to my small apartment in New York City.

As I recall, I couldn’t even confess to my young husband what my full intentions were for the piece. I don’t think we ever truly discussed having kids — only enough to agree we’d both want a family at some point — but why rush into anything?

Two years later, we’d moved out of our cramped fifth floor walk-up and into a relatively spacious (800 sq. ft.) Park Slope co-op apartment in anticipation of our first child. I am relatively superstitious, so I never had a shower and refused to do any real preparation for the arrival of our baby.

That is except one thing: I emptied the sideboard of the junk it had been holding to that point, figured out how I’d affix a changing table pad to the top of it, and equipped the interior of the cabinet with plastic organizers just the right side to accommodate diapers, tushie cream, and all the other newborn essentials.

And so the antique sideboard began its new journey as baby room furniture, serving its first master for nearly two years before it was handed down to my newborn daughter.

Although the piece was pretty unisex, it was definitely more girly than not, and so the sideboard stayed in my daughter’s room as she grew from living in a closet (the only space left by the time we busted out of our Park Slope co-op), to having her own bedroom once we moved into our first full-on house in California. As she grew, the sideboard evolved along with her — from changing table to bureau to toy chest and finally, to annoyance.

“Mom, do I have to have this thing in my room?” she groaned as a young tween. “It’s so babyish.”

And so I lugged my beloved sideboard, now crammed with old Halloween costumes, scuffed up dolls, worn board games, early reading books, fading school art projects, completed workbooks, and early-grade homework out to our garage-turned-guest room. Much like the Isle of Misfit Toys, the back house was a repository of all the furniture we’d had, loved, and no longer had much use for.

Bit by bit, I sold off the old stuff that had been with us since Brooklyn. And while I had a nostalgic moment here and there, I was happy to unload what no longer worked so I had the space and the funds to replace those things with more modern accouterment that fit our newest stage — life with teens.

Most recently, our renovated garage has undergone a “man cave” update — Mid-Century Modern furniture that gives the place a cool California vibe.

And so the sideboard is now officially in the wrong room, wrong century.

Eight months ago, when my BBF helped me renovate the room, she called the sideboard “clutter.”

More accurately, it’s sentimental clutter.

Which is why the journey to get rid of it has been an active one — much like parenting and antiquing. Initially I thought I’d be mercenary, and so I emptied the sideboard of all her treasures, paired it down to one small box of keepsakes, and tossed or donated the rest. For a minute I convinced myself if it held my office supplies, the sideboard would be a keeper.

But time has progressed and I’m now in the throes of working from home more than ever before, and that precious space the sideboard occupies would be much better served with a desk instead.

Still, I couldn’t help but try to make it work.

First, I pulled up a chair and attempted use the sideboard as a desk, but that was awkward.

Next I tried sitting on the couch and using a lap desk, but that felt impermanent. And I was also worried about the electromagnetic radiation thrown off the computer and directly onto my nether region.

Finally, I scoured every inch of my house, trying to find a place where the piece wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. A sore baby’s thumb to be exact.

No dice.

I decided that I needed to make a mental shift about this sentimental scenario. I attempted being Zen about the whole thing, trying to picture the sideboard as the intimate object that it is, and focusing on the idea that the memories of the sideboard are already safe from being lost.

But I’m not Buddhist — I’m neurotic by nature (see electromagnetic radiation and laptops, above) — and the thought of getting rid of the last bastion of babyhood stirred up too much anxiety. And sadness, too.

That was until one day when I brought out snacks to my son and his friends as they were rockin’ the man cave full-tilt, playing video games and blasting tunes. I caught sight of the sideboard and was struck by how ridiculously out of place it was.

Then I had another vision: one where my son moves into the man cave and uses the desk — my desk — to do his own work. Sure I’ll make a fuss as he moves my stuff around, but I won’t care that he uses it to finish high school, returns home for breaks from college, and someday in the way distant future, uses it when he comes for a visit with his own kids.

Rather than a shitty Ikea desk (which is my default place for fairly disposable furniture), I pictured a cool, antique desk that would fit with the chill Cali vibe of the space.

Something that had served another family, was greatly loved and appreciated, and now was ready to move on to our home and become part of our family.

Well, our history, anyways.

And so, I let go of my precious sideboard. Packed it up and gave it to my friend Lady Schneider to sell to just the right person.

So if you see me measuring the top of a Mid-Century Modern desk, just know that I’m pretty handy when it comes to affixing changing tables to regular furniture. Not that I’m ready to be a grandma — I’m not, by a long shot — but there’s never any harm at being prepared to make future happy memories.

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