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Cleaning Through Life

There are chores that one needs to do periodically in life or they get out of hand. Sorting and cleaning through the clutter that one accumulates is one of those. I've been telling myself for the past four summers now "I've got to clean out the attic and crawl space", and for three summers I've managed to find and excuse or two and not do it. When I got back from the desert this year I told myself "damn it this year you are gonna do it." And so I did. It's taken well over a week, but I did it. And I included the garage, and some of the house in the process too.

My home is a two storey affair -- but it could be a three storey if I wanted it to be. There is a crawl space underneath the ground floor that is big enough to stand up in. In fact one of the neighbors in an identical house did turn it into a finished basement, and Tony and I way back thought we'd do the same but never did. However, the previous owners had installed some lighting and some rudimentary shelves and it made for a good storage space.
Over the course of the eighteen years I've lived here the "basement" as it came to be known, was the repository for anything and everything that wasn't regularly used, and things I didn't want to throw away thinking it could come in handy someday. After eighteen years it got very full.

So this week I rented a U-Haul truck and began the process of going through the years of flotsam and jetsam. I decided to be ruthless -- throwing out anything that wasn't regularly used or needed, which was almost everything. I started with the garage, which didn't have too much, and the garage's attic which had some stuff. There were things of value that I was able to sell to second-hand stores -- sports equipment, tools, and CDs/DVDs, which at least paid for the truck rental.

But diving into the crawl space was another matter. It was in many ways entering a time capsule. Like an archeologist digging through layers I found things I'd forgotten about, things that made me wonder "what the heck is this?" and things that brought back memories of what seemed like another life.
There was a lot of Tony down there -- old photos, the remains of Christmas decorations, luggage, unused camping gear, old patio furniture we'd bought, and lots of bear kitsch. There's rolls of old Christmas wrap, huge Costco boxes of plastic silverware from picnics, and boxes of business records. There was the metal garden fencing we'd used to keep the dogs Abbey and Lucy and before that Zak and Osita out of areas of the garden and yard. The seat cushions from when we had Mariners season tickets. There was piles of carpet scraps from when we'd recarpeted the house, and an old carpet cleaner a former neighbor had given us because we were house-training puppies. There were boxes of stuff from when I'd moved from Phoenix back in 1989 that I'd never opened since that move too -- and some dishes and some posters and art work and books.

Its a slow process cleaning out one's life. You stop and look, wonder, think, and remember. Then you walk it up the stairs and out to the U-haul in the driveway. That's why it took over a week to get through the house, the garage, the attic and the crawl space.
And in the end you have a U-haul filled to the brim with stuff. It's mostly garbage, it's junk, it's worthless in terms of monetary value, but in the broader sense it's evidence of a life. Each piece part of the story of the past eighteen years -- each piece a memory of something. And then it's all hauled away and disposed of. In the blink of an eye and $60 dollars in dump fees it's gone. The physical evidence dumped in a pit to be put on a train and hauled away to Oregon and buried along with the daily debris from a thousand other lives. But the memories remain. Memories of the dogs that the fence once corralled, the congressman who's office was visited and who posed for a photo, the mountains hiked, the Christmas gifts wrapped, and the man once - and still - loved who you shared a life with for a time. The memories. That's what counts. That's what stays.

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