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I guess I can get a little tetchy about the second hand thing. On the one hand, there's a peculiar pride in being able to spot a Stella McCartney cashmere coat at 20 paces or an authentic Dooney and Bourke purse hanging with the pile of Clinique gift bags and Chinese knockoffs. And on the other, there's a sort of nervous embarrassment about stopping the car near a curb to toss some intriguing lawn furniture into the trunk and discovering that there are people still using it.

But a lifetime of being the butt of family jokes from the aunts and cousins...yes...ho. ho...hmmm. Gets a little old and tired--and that goes for the cracks about hand-me-downs, too--we're Catholics, for chrissakes! I think hand-me-downs are part of the catechism, aren't they? After all, all of my mother's sisters and brothers had a bent toward collecting--junk cars, old church statuary, canned foods, dusty stacks of cash--but our house: that was something of a showcase. Friends and relatives would come to visit and there would be a frantic flurry of activity to stash a couple boxes in my brother's room, a shuttle run of things into the barn, and a quick couple flushes of the toilet for good measure.

Let me go on the record right now: it is not genetic. We're all just one pair $800 Christian LaBoutin shoes or a 99-cent jackalope away from the same problem. You, me, the overweening, Dwell-Magazine-reading minimalist with the uncomfortable linen sofa and nowhere to store his mail. You can't tell me that that guy doesn't get piles somewhere.

So, really, it all boils down to pile management.

I gave up shopping for Lent this year. It was Ash Wednesday and I had a big deadline on Thursday. I can remember this because I don't have that many deadlines right now, so they tend to stand out. Instead of being at home writing, I was at the Goodwill. (In case you're wondering, I found a nice, silver-framed beveled mirror and a nice pair of silk Tommy Bahama drawstring pants.) But--and this is important--I didn't buy them.

I went home and attacked the pile on my desk, which included that article on a "minimalist" architect who has three "weekend" homes, and who didn't get the irony. Then, when I hit send and cleared the desktop, I went on a driveby boxing, which is just going around the house and pitching things into a box: ugly shoes, tired tee shirts, the mysteriously reappearing hardbound copy of The DaVinci Code that everyone thinks I'm going to like and I keep throwing out because I wouldn't use it as toilet paper. (I once hosted a good, old-fashioned book burning to which I consigned one of these recurring copies of The DaVinci Code but that's another story).

I threw out my sons' artwork. Yep. Big, honkin' stacks of it. I threw out piles of pants with bad butt fit and stacks of skirts that seemed funny and ironic at the time but were really just odd and loud. I pitched unattractive family snapshots and ugly stuffed animals, or any stuffed animals that gave me a dirty look. I chucked attractive things, too--Donna Karan pants that were nipped just a tad too tight in the waist; a cute little teapot that was short and stout, but when you tipped it just made a big, freaking mess. I tossed Armani sandals and pretty Christmas cards sent by distant loved ones that I finally admitted I was never going to turn into charming origami tree ornaments.

Oh, I had my "Come-to-Oprah" moments--the twinges of uncertainty, a "I-might-need-this-for-something-later" justifications. And that's when you know: if it hurts, it's got to go.

Some of it, I set out by the curb, where neighbors made off with chairs and baby equipment. The rest I left on the doorstep of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and ran away without asking for a receipt. I don't often shop at St. V.deP. Don't shit in your own nest, is how my mom might have put that strategy. But recently, I saw a woman wearing a great pair of suspiciously familiar vintage Armani sandals.

They looked really good on her.

I kind of wanted 'em back.


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