Thursday, May 28, 2009
Back in the fall, when we moved into the house we are currently renting, we were told that the garage was unavailable. Our landlord explained that she had inherited the house when her grandmother died some years before. At that time, in order to get the house cleaned out and ready to rent, she had haphazardly jammed all of grandma’s belongings into the garage and locked the door. She explained that until recently, the thought of opening it up and going through all of the stuff had been too emotional to deal with. After getting to know us, she felt comfortable enough to give us the key to the garage and told us we could move things around to make extra space and use whatever room we could find for our own storage.
My friends will tell you that part of my particular brand of crazy includes an organizing jones. My spices are alphabetized. Shirts hang in my closet according to color and sleeve length. My P-touch label maker is my co-pilot and Australian super-organizer Peter Walsh is my hero. I adore the shows with the clutter-y folks and their mountains of crap getting tidied into submission.
I had our storage bins labeled, categorized and lined up in the driveway ready for their new home. I was up to the task of granny’s garage. The challenge was that because this was not my stuff, I would not be making more room by throwing anything away, I would merely be rearranging the hills and heaps. The easier part was that because I had no emotional attachment to any of these things, I anticipated a faster job with no time wasted on the sentimental journeys that can slow down a clean up of one’s own.
The little one-car garage was packed. Nothing was put anywhere specific, just piles sitting on piles. Her purse sat on a brown recliner as if she had just set it down. Gas bills and perfume bottles and the dinner menu from a 1973 Caribbean cruise were stuffed together in a grocery bag. I marveled over a large collection of used McDonald’s coffee stirrers bound together by rubber bands. I realized that I had not been prepared for the emotional exhaustion that would come from getting to know someone through the lifetime of objects collected and left behind.
Once I finally finished pulling everything out, I did the basics; grouped like items together, sorted, boxed, and labeled. When the project was over, the transformation was pretty remarkable. I looked at the now empty half of the garage, ready to be filled with our family's things. I was feeling the weight of too many belongings. I thought of my own stuff and what it said about me and what I value. I considered the person who might be left to sort through the possessions I leave behind. I wondered if holding on to less might free up the energy to spend time building a legacy of something more. I opened one of my bins and started sifting through.