The Clearing

I have forty-three drawers, twenty-three cupboards, nine closets, three chests, four bookcases and one garage, and I’m on a mission to clear out all of them. I’m not sure where this impulse started. Perhaps it was one more article on “How to declutter your life.” Perhaps it was the overheard conversation between a couple of boomers lamenting having to clear out their parents’ house after an emergency or a death. Maybe it was the talk with a neighbor who had decided to sell her house and downsize to a rental condo “before the roof started leaking and the water heater exploded” — and let someone else worry about all that. In any case it seemed like a good and timely idea.

It began with the bathroom closet. I took a dozen towels and about as many sheets and pillowcases to Primavera, the homeless shelter that sometimes needs such things for rehousing people. I threw out a wastebasket of over-the-counter mendicants that were way past useable and pondered how to dispose of expired drugs. (Mix them with coffee grounds and wrap them in a plastic bag for the garbage, someone suggested.)

Some discoveries were curious: Why do I have a full box of latex gloves? Six shoehorns? A dozen nail clippers when I can never find one when I need one? I went through my “jewelry” box, and among the necklaces and earrings I seldom wear were a small collection of single earrings, pins for organizations I joined decades ago, worthless bits of flotsam and jetsam of my past. It seemed a shame to toss all those memories, so I started a box. Later I added the shells and sand dollars we’d collected on a Maine vacation in 1973 and some bits and pieces of craft projects and art classes  long abandoned. I wrapped it all in a shoebox and mailed them to Becky, the niece I knew would take some of it and make something imaginative and fetching to hang on her wall. I was right. She loved it.

Sometimes I ran into things I thought the kids might like and then I would consult, but most of that was already dispensed at other moves over the years. I don’t have much left to be sentimental about. John Jr took the family videos and sent back DVDs. Pictures have been dispersed or digitalized or tossed. Gradually I have whittled the books down (I asked myself, do you seriously think you will re-read Homer’s Odyssey?). But it gets harder. Nobody seems to want books anymore. I actually threw some in the trash. Sacrilege!

The game drawer yielded fourteen decks of cards, Yahtze scorepads, Mah Jongg cards for every year since I started playing in 1992, four cribbage boards, Scrabble and yes, Trivial Pursuit, remember those? I saved two decks of cards and the Scrabble.

Much of the garage had been emptied when John died. That was his domain, his man cave, but enough was left that I was confronted by his personal quirky organizational skills, his neatly printed labels on boxes. He loved boxes. He loved labels. I went through his tools and set aside a small hammer, a wirecutter, a couple of screwdrivers, some pliers and a small power drill that I thought I might use. All those sets of socket wrenches are a mystery to me and they went to the flea market stash.

It’s taken almost a year but I’m almost finished. It’s been an eye-opening journey, a dawdle down memory lane, an exercise in detachment (some drawers are still defying any resolution). I highly recommend the process. Don’t rush, just one drawer/cupboard a day. Savor it. Do it for your own mental health. Do it as a gift to your kids. But just for fun leave some surprises behind for them to find.

Rosemary Rawson is the author of Coming of Age (SRP, 2014).

One comment on “The Clearing

  1. Barbara Appleton says:

    You know, I did the same thing about two years ago and now I could do it again! Where does it come from?

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