I’ve been cleaning house. Part of this is your typical spring cleaning – opening windows, giving surfaces a good dusting, laundering the slipcovers on the sofa. And part of this is a deep dive into an area largely untouched since I moved into the home: my basement.

The beauty of having a basement is being able to put things down there where they are out of sight, and don’t need to be dealt with – at least for awhile. I took full advantage of this when I bought the place. Camping equipment, unneeded furniture, boxes of holiday decorations, gardening tools. Random bits of family memorabilia. An inflatable kayak. Lawn games. All went to the basement.

There is a logic to this: basements are for storage, after all. But they also tend to be magnets for accumulation. At a certain point, I had to ask myself: How much is too much?

There were my college notebooks, filled with neat handwriting that seems almost unrecognizable, and printouts of articles I used for a research paper in 1999. It is hard for me to throw these away, even though I’m unlikely to need to revisit the topic of vector-born diseases anytime soon. I find other school materials as well: class photos, a program from my kindergarten graduation. And items from my teen years, like paystubs from my first “on the books” job at a fast-food restaurant, and a mood ring, safely tucked into the box I’d kept it in since high school.

I find items given to me by family members. There is a kitchen towel that still bears the distinctive scent of my Aunt Stella’s house; smelling it takes me instantly back to my childhood, to hours spent in her living room, eating handfuls of peanut M&Ms, where the furniture was always immaculate, and her wall clock chimed the hours in melodic tones. I hesitate to wash it, unwilling to lose that scent, that memory. I fold it and put it aside.

Some surprises are not as welcome. I’m caught off guard, unprepared for the discovery. With the objects come feelings, and I must sort these too.

I find a photograph of myself smiling in a red ballgown, standing next to the man I used to be married to.

There is the antique sausage grinder, passed down between family members and used for countless batches of homemade kielbasa. Its previous owner was my late cousin; his mother gifted it to me after his untimely death, along with a handwritten recipe. I can’t decide what to do with it. It moves from one side of the basement to the other.

Items like this beg the question: Where do I put it in my house? Where do I fit this stuff into my life?

More abstractly: What remainder of my past will stay in my present? Will become part of my future?

This is not merely cleaning, but emotional cataloging. It is taking stock.

Some things don’t stay. Bag after bag is placed in the trash. I take batches of items to Goodwill and other donation centers. A few I try to sell. And there are some that remain.

There is also space. I look at the vacant shelves, the empty areas in the floor and feel satisfied with a job well done. The house feels lighter. What is in it is, for the most part, chosen rather than simply received.

And isn’t that what a home is for? A place to keep what we hold dear, and to let the rest go.

Addendum: I would be remiss not to mention the heroic levels of deep cleaning that Peter engaged in over the course of this project. He swept, he scrubbed, he wiped and vacuumed and he kept me honest. The basement has never looked better. There’s still work ahead, but of the type that involves exploring possibilities: Beer fridge? Home theater? Yoga room? Because after the dust settles, its time to play.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *