Sunday, August 19, 2012

T (shirt) for Two (thousand) by Jenny Gardiner

            Since being terrified after spending time in a relative's hoarder home earlier in the summer, I've been relishing the purge mode we're in at our house, getting rid of the excessive volume of crapola that we simply don't need, and untangling the ties that bind from having so much junk cluttering up our lives.
            But in the process I have been struck by the abundance — make that wretched excess — of t-shirts in which we are collectively in possession. I don't doubt that between the five of us we own close to a thousand t-shirts, enough to clothe a small third-world nation, if given the chance. The thing is, I am sure we are not alone with this unnecessary clothing glut: I suspect the globe is in danger of being overrun with a dearth of unneeded stretch knits. I'm waiting for a worldwide cave-in straight out of that hoarder house I visited.
            What makes tees so hard to unload? Imbued in most t-shirts is complicated sentimentality, since often they are the inexpensive/free memento we collect along the way as we celebrate important events in life. Starting early on in childhood, from pre-school to sports teams, championships, special school events, concerts, weddings, family reunions, and countless other life happenings in which we are invested with our time and passion, t-shirts are a de facto part of them and ultimately what remains, aside from our memories. So who can throw them out? It's like pushing your kid out the door and locking it behind him. (Proof: I still have a t-shirt I bought at a Bruce Springsteen concert in 1977. Of course it hasn't fit for two decades).
            A while back quilters got the right idea: salvage the main part of the design, pitch the moth-eaten remainders, and stitch up a quilt memorializing all those sentimental events. Though quilting with stretch fabric is no fun, it's a great idea. Except when you have hundreds of sentimental T's with which you simply cannot part. We'd be mighty hot around here with the hundreds of t-shirt quilts we'd have to make to maximize use of our vast stockpile. And that's of the "valuable" ones, not even the ones now in the discard pile.
            Instead, we agonize about what to get rid of, these shirts we do not need. Worst are the ones you get for free that are plastered with meaningless sponsorships, like the freebies you get from the bank for signing up for a credit card on your first day of college: as if anyone will ever even wear the t-shirt that says "Garden State Bank & Trust welcomes you to Jersey U".  Well, you know what I mean.
            Years ago while traveling in Africa we happened upon a destitute local villager wearing a New York Jets t-shirt, another with one promo'ing the Minnesota Vikings. Clearly one man's trash is another's treasure. At least that's what I'm counting on as we lug bagfuls of the stuff to donation sites, hoping these washed-up threads find new and happy homes.
            T-shirts do have an awkward downside: I'm always terribly curious to read people's shirts, but you can't do it without staring at someone's chest, a huge space violation. If you insist on gaping, you clearly run the risk of being considered a t-shirt stalker, which is slightly creepy. But there are compelling messages on t-shirts. One of my favorites reads: "I take aspirin for the headache caused by the Zyrtec I take for the hayfever I got from Relenza for the uneasy stomach from the Ritalin I take for the short attention span caused by the Scopederm Ts I take for the motion sickness I got from the Lomotil I take for the diarrhea caused by the Zenikal I take for the uncontrollable weight gain from the Paxil I take for the anxiety from Zocor I take for my high cholesterol because exercise, a good diet, and regular chiropractic care are just too much trouble." See, there are compelling life lessons in those t-shirt messages.
            My problem is I also get this way with tattoos as well: I really want to see precisely what someone has such powerful convictions about that they're willing to ink it into their flesh for life. But it's awfully rude to stare, darn it. Don't even get me started on ogling folks with bad plastic surgery or Botox. Oy.
            The other morning we were at breakfast and one person at our table having trouble choosing what to order turned completely around and stared at the meals just served to the neighboring table, trying to discern what looked most tempting. Unfortunately, once the food's been placed in front of the diner, it's impolite to gawk at it, even for legitimate reasons. But how can you not, with that delicious food just calling out to you? All these times when staring is called for, yet practically verboten at the same time: it seems unfair.
            Last week we were on a motorboat on a lake. Now staring is a given while boating: every boater has some degree of boat envy and you can't help but gape at what the other guy is tooling around in. If not that, you're wondering why the guy wore that suit, in light of how small it is/how it's falling off his behind/how his overflowing belly obscures it. Or why any granny over the age of 70 would choose to wear a bikini, anyhow. So as you motor about the water, you stare at the passing boats. Everyone does it. And then you wave. It's a "Hey, we're not staring at you, we're just passing by, neighbor" wave. Even though everyone knows it's really more a "we want to know how you can afford that boat and dress that badly" kind of wave.
            Which leads me back to being thrilled just to be purging at our house. Because I sure as hell don't want to be the crazed hoarder everyone is staring at when my stockpile of junk collapses around me and the earth mover is required to save me. Now that would be worth staring at; even I would have no choice but to fix my gaze.
Jenny Gardiner spends most of her time staring at her computer, which thankfully is not insulted by this rude habit. You can find her at

Please check out my books that have been published!

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man on Main Street (a collection of essays)

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girlygirlhoosier52 said...

Having cleared out 2 elderly relatives' homes... I can completely see where you're coming from... and neither of them were 'collectors of stuff'... just long-lived. Remember that the little shell from the beach you gave your relative from that trip... you'll be tossing it out in future.. My niece has a rule... something goes out for every thing that comes into her house.. I, sadly, am not that capable..

Pat Cochran said...

You've now gotten me thinking of all the
tees hanging in the closets and folded
/rolled up in drawers! Since it is just
the two of us (and Honey is not a t-shirt
person), I know we don't total thousands.
But there are an awful lot of them!

Pat C.

Jenny Gardiner said...

that's a great policy of one in, one out. Stuff just becomes overwhelming!!! thanks for stopping by!