Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Big Dig

I’ve been working for over a week on cleaning out my pantry. It’s a small room off the kitchen that I managed to stuff with stuff for years. I kept thinking I should tackle it, but kept dropping the ball. Finally, before Christmas I bought a cedar wardrobe (on Craigslist) to replace the one in the pantry that was falling apart, and knew I’d have to get serious about mucking out before it arrived.

A corner of the room has been inaccessible because of a file cabinet and boxes, so the process was like an archeological dig. I found a German cherry pitter and a green-bean frencher that hooks up to a power drill. I found a corn cutter, a big commercial bread pan (for a 6-lb. loaf), and parts for at least three vacuum cleaners I no longer own. I found Legos my children played with when they were not in their 30’s and 40’s. And I found (and threw out) an embarrassing number of dusty boxes of pasta that had fallen to the floor.

When we set out to do a major clean-out or reorganization, at some point we invariably make a bigger mess than we started out with. At least that's how it always works with me. Every day this week I’ve had stuff all over my kitchen, dining table, and beyond. Even now, a pile of umbrellas (who knew I had so many?) and hangers (ditto!) sits on my sofa. Some of what I pulled out of the pantry will go back in, but much has already gone to the trash or to Salvation Army. 

"Energy comes from knowing what to do," I've often quoted, and the one category that's pulling the plug on my energy is paper. I've always had two filing cabinets in the pantry, but they took up too much room, and I got rid of the one that had been filled with accordion files holding "things to save," as I wrote on some of them. Most are letters: from my parents, from Jill, from my son, from me to my son, from me to Jill, from me to my dear friend Lisa. There are other things in the files, too: clips from my newspaper column, clips of articles I wrote and photos I took when I was a reporter, issues of Woman's World, Yankee, and literary magazines with my stories and poems in them, letters from my Russian penpals, letters from Norman Cousins, singleton letters from various other people I wrote to over the years, printouts of countless journal entries, and more. Paper. Paper.

An article I read on decluttering recently stated that we keep unnecessary things because of two reasons: fear of the future, and wanting to hold onto the past. I admit I want to hold onto the past. I have wanted to hold onto the past my whole life, ever since my mother died when I was nine. I absolutely do appreciate my present, but I'm unwilling to abandon my past. I understand this, but I won't try to change it. If the result is an armload or two of fat files I'm not sure what to do with, so be it.

Meanwhile, tonight my daughter and son-in-law arrived in their uber-pickup bearing the new (old) cedar closet. They carried it inside and set it in place. It needs a little leveling (actually, it's my old house that needs the leveling), but it fits perfectly and looks great. And Peachy, who hopes that the new, cleaner space will attract some interesting residents with tails and whiskers (and I don't mean cats), thinks so too.


Julia said...

Your cedar closet looks beautiful and will be a great addition to your clean pantry.

The best gift you can leave your children is what they want to take now while you're alive. Too often we keep things for them and they have no desire to own those old keepsakes.

My husband's aunt had a house full of old clutter she clung to and after she passed away, the kids agonized over getting rid of the stuff and dealing with settling the estate, the funeral. They were overwhelmed with the task. Much of the stuff was given to goodwill and dumpsters full went to the dump.

It happened to my son in law also. He had to deal with the same stressful situation and agonized about having to deal with the stuff he didn't wanted or needed.

Why do we all cling to our past? We all do it.....

Have a nice weekend Susan.

Susan said...

Thank you, Julia. I'm well aware that I will leave more papers behind than my children will ever want to read. A friend of mine asked her survivors to burn her journals, which they did. It pained me to hear about that, but I don't know how they felt about it.

crystal said...

Peachy :) The cabinet looks very nice!

I hold on to a lot of stuff too, probably both from fear of the future and missing the past. I keep thinking I should buy a paper shredder and do away with it all.

When my mom died my sister and I looked through all of the stuff. There were old letters from boyfriends and photos and papers from when she was in college. It's been 12 years and we still haven't thrown it all away yet.

Helen said...

I think some things from the past are worth holding on to. Letters, for example. And Susan, maybe your children will want to read all those papers; if it were my mother, I'm sure I'd want to.

Indigo Bunting said...

I nearly wrote a post like this last week—except when I realized how many like it I'd already written, I hesitated. I was going to include the very quote you did. I figured I better get started before I wrote (like you did). I just read an interesting book about getting rid of things, which wasn't a perfect book, but had some interesting ways to go about it. Glad to read about others here.

Susan said...

What book was that, Indigo? And would you please give me the address of your blog? Almost all the ones on my blogroll are outdated. So am I.

Indigo Bunting said...

Sorry it took me so long to get back here. The book is Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. My address is

Susan said...

Thanks, IB! I read an excerpt from that book recently. I definitely hold on to the past--and that's not likely to change. But I should read the whole book.

Happy to have your blog!