I got into spring cleaning a little early this year.
I’ve been sorting through boxes and papers, going through piles of accumulated information and treasures, things put-off and things I meant to get to later — and trying to find a little calm in the chaos.
So far, it’s working.
I won’t bore you with all the hows and the whys I got into such a mess, except to say it was a challenge merging two households when I got married 12 years ago, especially since I moved into a house already set up and occupied. Then five years ago, I found myself unexpectedly retired with 40 years of clip files and columns, news stories and notebooks to bring home from the newsroom.
Plus, I’m a saver at heart.
Everything is important to me.
Little is inconsequential — or why would I have it in the first place?
I know people who can pick up and move at a moment’s notice. They have possessions pared down to a minimum, entire closets that can go into one of those storage tubs and mementos that hardly take up a corner of one shelf. These are people who live in the moment, unfettered by things or dust.
On many levels, I admire them.
But I do not understand them.
There is no way I could unload the little bottle of colored sand my nephew — now a man of 32 — made for me when he was just a pip squeak. No way I could toss the ceramic elephant my English pen pal sent when we were in ninth grade. No way I’m going to give up the jacket my grandmother took off and gave me just weeks before she died, even though its seams are worn and weary.
I have a friend who insists all anyone requires in retirement is two good outfits; no need for a closetful of clothes. Another friend keeps asking why I have so many books on the shelves, why so many candlesticks and vases, and, by the way, did I mean to save all those empty boxes?
Um, yes. There must have been a good reason at the time, but just to prove I’m on a new path, they’ve found a home in the recycling bin. The boxes, not the candlesticks, vases and books.
Anyway, I’ve been at it since February and long into March — organizing, filing, throwing away and packing up to donate. This is more than de-cluttering. It might not sound like it, but this is a purging of sorts. For those who have been on a Lenten journey themselves, I’ve looked at this time as my trip into the wilderness … disguised as a basement, and my return. I am not being ruthless. That goes against my nature, but I am trying to look at things with as unsentimental an eye as I can summon.
I’ve been going through books, deciding which should go to Hackley Public Library’s used book sale this spring and which should stay here. I’ve been reading and rereading note cards and letters from friends and family, keeping some and sacrificing others, and doing the same with years of photographs.
You know how you see your whole life flash before you in a matter of seconds in times of emergency and crisis? I’m seeing mine in slow motion, a lone witness to the detritus of my life, and oh, what I am discovering about myself.
I may look like just another person on the street, but I want you to know that I am a member in good standing of the International Davy Crockett Fan Club. My membership card even has “Thanks! Davy” written on it. I came across my marble bag and jacks from childhood, and the little brown purse I carried to school with my dues on the days we had Brownies and Girl Scouts.
And there is the heart-shaped stone that my grandfather and I found on a walk when I was five years old. He told me to put it in my pocket and keep it with me. It’s in a special box where I have a few letters from him and my grandmothers, a treasure chest of memories.
But I also emptied an entire closet of clothes I’ll never wear again. I dumped notes from a project gone bad. I did lighten the load of books I’ve kept too long, although, I confess I rescued a copy of “All’s Quiet on the Western Front” just before the bag left the house. Every household needs a copy of that. I put all my stationery on one shelf, threw away pens that didn’t work and rounded up the various journals of my life scattered about with such good intentions of writing, writing, writing.
Of course, now I can’t find my favorite pen, and I don’t know where the notebook is that I use to keep track of prayer shawls knitted, wrapped and given, but eventually; eventually I’ll find them in the midst of all this order.
And because I’ve been in the wilderness of clutter and too much too much for too long, I will rejoice, and I promise myself I will put everything back in its proper place now, not later. I promise on my Davy Crockett Club membership.