Cambrian: Slice of Life

Winter cleaning brings memories, difficult choices

Why was I standing on the patio, feeling so emotional about stuff? A dented, tarnished sugar bowl. A fairy godmother statue with a broken wand. A threadbare, terrycloth bathrobe, a frayed Joseph’s coat of many colors?

We were in pare-down, cleanup mode in our overstuffed storage areas.

This was not a ladylike, prespring decluttering, no sir. This was a full-fledged, down-and-very-dirty purge, a weeding-out process that was 39 years in the making, encompassing stuff from two house sales, three moves, five businesses, various grandchildren, caregiving for three seniors and a fire.

How did we get into this storage pickle? Procrastination, inertia, buying too much stuff, being given twice as much, and the vagaries of life.

When my husband, Richard, and I married, we melded our households of furniture, kitchen goods and stuff, from first-aid kits to shovels, from pillowcases to coffeemakers. Later, after selling his house very quickly, we added our stuff to my mom’s already full home.

Our busy Cambria lifestyles of caregiving for my mom, working 18-hour days at our bakery/catering business and my column-writing/reporting didn’t leave us much time (or energy) for weeding out extra stuff.

Chaos expanded exponentially, because of course, more stuff was added.

You do realize, don’t you, that, as soon as you buy or are given something new, the minute it comes in the front door, it turns into “stuff”?

Yes, a house fire destroyed many of our belongings, but most were essentials that had to be replaced anyway. Naturally, the excess stuff survived in storage.

Then we moved in 2009, again without enough time to fully sort stuff in the areas where 35 years of it had accumulated. We’ve done some weeding out in the meantime, but not enough.

Now, it was time to really clear out. No excuses. Our indefatigable slave-driver son, Sean, had time off. He and our middle son, Brian, were determined that our storage areas were going to be clean, mean and lean.

Me, too. I was tired of being owned by stuff.

It was hard. I examined each box, crate, bag and stack to determine the fate of the contents: Keep to use; keep to store; keep to sort later; donate; discard.

Stuff from the latter two categories filled a U-Haul truck!

This wasn’t a leisurely, Japanese-style, “Only keep it if it gives you joy” kind of process. It was more a rapid-fire test: “Am I ever going to use this again?” crossed with “Can I bear to give this away?”

It was speed-dating for stuff, an absolutely exhausting process, physically and emotionally.

You’re not only cleaning out your garage or attic, you’re rummaging around in your past … into what was, what might have been, what is no longer and what can never be again.

Some people have commented since that it must be very freeing to have divested ourselves of so much excess stuff. Of course, it’s wonderful to be able to see things, find them and use them, to not have them buried under mounds of other things that I probably wouldn’t ever use.

But the feelings are mixed, and it will take a little time to sort them out, too.

Apparently, doing the high-speed cleanout triggered a flashback of emotions we had after our house fire, feelings of sudden, uncontrolled loss, compounded because we can’t really remember for sure everything that’s been lost.

Do I remember what we’ve just donated, what went into the garbage? Do I even remember for sure what we kept? Not a chance, because there was such a limited time in which to do the full-scale assault. I went through those boxes and bins very, very quickly.

So, there I was on the patio, staring at some things that had survived our house fire, things I should discard, but just could not.

The sugar bowl was the last remaining piece from my great-grandmother’s two sterling tea-and-coffee sets.

The statue was a gift from a dear friend, “because you’re everybody’s fairy godmother.”

And the shabby Joseph’s coat?

For years, Richard wore that robe when he strolled out to get the newspapers that were delivered each morning.

Now, because of his stroke in 2013, I’m the one who takes the morning trek to get the news.

Maybe now I’ll start wearing his robe for those walks.