Cleaning

I’m on a mild hiatus from full-time work this summer (I’m still doing some work to help pay the mortgage, but I don’t have to go to the office every day), so I’ve been trying to take advantage of my time and clean the house. Not the standard cleaning (I actually get some help with that), but the deep cleaning – the cleaning of drawers, closets, nooks and crannies.

It’s harder to do than I thought – I really thought that I’d grown less attached to stuff, especially that which I don’t see very often. But not so. I think because I haven’t seen it in a while, when I pull it out, it’s a flood of memories – anything from my grandmother to my childhood to a fun time with friends. And it’s hard to throw out memories.

Recently, there was an episode of Real Housewives of NYC (part of my hiatus, don’t judge) and Sonja was trying to clean out her basement. She had to enlist friends to come help her get rid of stuff because everything she pulled out reminded her of when her children were little and she was married and they were a happy family. I get that, and even if your life is totally different now, getting rid of stuff from back in the day can make it feel like you’re giving away bits of yourself.

Of course, this isn’t true – your memories are in your brain, not your basement. I tell myself that all the time. And, for me, I’m done growing my family – why am I holding on to random baby stuff? Or furniture that literally does not fit in my house? It’s time to move on. But how?

I think books have been written about this, but here are some tactics that work for me:

  1. Reminisce: As you clean, tell the stories that go along with the items. Share how your grandmother used to take you out for fancy tea when you were six and also bought you your own tea set. Go ahead and remember where in the house that table used to be when you were in 7th grade and you spilled paint on it. Send an email to your brother of you wearing that t-shirt he made for your 16th birthday.
  2. Find new homes: Some things are hard to let go of from a sentimental perspective and some are just in good enough shape that you might just still use them. I might start juicing/espresso making/pasta making one day.  If you’re holding on to some girl-baby things and your uterus is closed for business, think about passing them on to a friend, cousin or good friend. You may know yourself well-enough to know you won’t use a Depression Era punch bowl, but by golly, your neighbor down the street is crazy for the stuff. And when you give it to the designated receiver, share your stories with them – it gives the gift more meaning and life.
  3. Need: There are a lot of people in need of lots of things. Even if it can’t go to a hand-picked home, there are still lots of folks who will use and appreciate what you can offer through a donation organization. It’s not a bad way to go.
  4. A picture is worth 1,000 words: I’ve been taking pictures of some stuff before I toss, donate or give it away. This way, I can still have that same feeling of remembering something when I come across the picture instead of the item. It’s also a great way to get back in touch with family and friends – chances are they remember that lamp/glass/shirt/toy with fondness, too.

I’m not claiming victory over marginal hoarding, but I’m making incremental progress. I figure that what I’m really doing is making room for new memories. And then I’ll just give all my stuff to my son when (and if) he moves into his own home…along with a copy of my blog. Good luck with your cleaning and enjoy your memories!

– Libby Bingham

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