Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Purge

Last week I’d had enough.

After a long, dark winter that extended into spring, time spent outside sitting on cold metal bleachers watching 20 high school baseball games in 50-degree wind, cold, and damp, I needed some lightness. My house is the one place where I have any smidge of influence, so I stared it down, cracked my knuckles, pointed at it menacingly, and said “You’re mine.”

In the fifties they called it “spring cleaning.” Housewives would strip rooms of the winter dirt and grime, scrub down walls and baseboards, clean windows to a sparkling shine, and beat dust from rugs, clearing the cobwebs from the winter of their minds.

I hate cleaning, and have done my share of the spring sort of cleaning that my predecessors did. It is soul-sucking work, so even though my house could probably benefit from a deep clean and my heartiest elbow grease, I knew that cleaning wasn’t what I needed to do. Plus, my house isn’t that dirty, if HVAC and appliance install guys can be believed. They say “Your house is clean” when nosing in the dirtiest parts of my home, and I believe them because I’m not paying them to compliment me, but they should offer it as an add-on service.

After a winter that seemed to go on forever, I needed another sort of cleansing.

We’ve been talking about doing some upgrades to our home for some time now, a habit that my husband excels at doing. He can talk for years about doing something, the actual event secondary to the talking about it. Sometimes, the talking part exceeds the time limit we have to accomplish certain things. It makes me crazy. In this case we needed a jumping off point.

What better way to ignite the process of change than doing little things here and there? It’s difficult to envision a change without actually changing something, and I knew where I would begin.

I would eliminate some of our stuff.

Not much that we have is safe from becoming tomorrow’s thrift store find or garage sale item. Few things we own are worth much apart from sentimental value, and as I cleared dressers and tables and walls of pictures and knickknacks and other assorted dust-snatchers, I regarded each object objectively, considering that if it had any value other than “but we’ve had this for fifteen years”, into the giveaway pile it went.

Away went the fifty picture frames filled with never-updated pictures of extended family members and friends. Likewise the metal wall hangings that I clearly recall buying at a department store for 50% off because I needed Something Brown That Fits Into This Space.

Away went the huge and heavy clay African mask that my son made in elementary school so long ago he didn’t even remember making it, and the glazed flower bowl that my daughter made and pronounced ugly when she saw it in the pile of potential discards. “But you made that,” I said. “Yeah,” she replied. "It was an epic fail.”

Away went stacks of picture books that I bought for the kids for Easter, Christmas and birthdays so they’d have “something else to unwrap”, books that never became treasured and were brand new, read maybe one time each.

I threw a lot of stuff into the trash and loaded the back of my van with the rest of the items. Boxes of candle holders and decorative plates, frames and doodads all went to the thrift store workers who greeted me with smiles and thanked me for my donations.

Our old stuff has been gone for a week now. I miss nothing, nor do I feel as if I should have hung onto that one thing or that I shouldn’t have gotten rid of that other thing. I feel lighter, like I can move forward and take care of business that we’ve talked about for so long now. Somehow, all that stuff was holding me back. All those things.

I was raised to not put much stock in things. “You can’t take it with you” is something that my mother taught me when I would fret over the things I had or didn’t have. Ironically, she gave me a hard time about getting rid of a particular thing that she remembered she had given me years ago. I told her to get over it. Someone else is enjoying it now.

For now I’m enjoying the bare walls, seeing the end tables free of stuff. The tasks ahead don’t seem quite as daunting as they had before. Now instead of emptying a shelf of things so I can paint the wall behind it, all I have is the shelf to move. It seems like a small difference, but you didn’t see how full the back of my van was before I unloaded it at the thrift store.

Moving forward - it’s going to happen anyway, and I’d rather not be dragging a bunch of stuff behind me when I go.



  1. It feels so good to lighten the load, doesn't it?

  2. This post made me feel like I just cleaned my house vicariously through you.
    Thank you for that.

    And now I feel the need to purge MY basement.

    1. Do it - you won't be disappointed. Even if you give away that one thing that your mother gave you but secretly wanted it for herself.

  3. I love purging. I cannot understand the save-everything mentality. At all. To me, donating things no longer in use (or tossing that which is broken or unusable in some other way) is the ONLY way to keep my sanity.

    I've always felt this way, but after our fire - when we lived in a rental house for 6 months with none of our things - I saw how very little we NEED beyond ourselves and the bare necessities.

    By a company who does this kind of thing for temporarily displaced people, we were given one set of sheets for each bed, a set of 8 plates, bowls, cups and cutlery. A few trashcans. A broom and dustpan. Bath towels. A few pots and pans. One television. The house was practically empty and exactly what we required to be reminded of how MUCH we had in each other.

    It was, perhaps, the best lesson our family has ever been taught. In the three years since, I have barely unpacked the boxes returned to us from the restoration facility.

    Less is more. For reals.

    1. What a hard lesson to learn, but you are right - less is more. I like things, but I have learned that owning things isn't always as enjoyable as we are trained to think.