When I was younger and told my play space was too dirty (usually you couldn’t walk in it), I’d grab armfuls of toys off the ground and pack up boxes to put them above the garage because that was where all the surplus crap went. I never looked at those toys again, yet we kept them. Now, between sixteen and ten years later, I’ve filled dozens of bags with these unused trinkets and memories.
I was never the cleanest person. In college, I learned how to live with less. Each decoration had value to me since there wasn’t much real estate to spare (the real estate metaphor comes from The Home Edit), and I’d look around my little room and feel cozy. I mostly did this to make up for feeling far away from home, but the items followed along each year.
My husband’s grandparents couldn’t keep up with their house cleaning, and different family members had come in before to clean up. My mother-in-law cleaned it out incredibly when she had to make room in three bedrooms for her and her sons to stay there.
Since she’s moved out, the clutter has continued its routine of accumulating. Now, I mostly clean their house for the upkeep and not the storage/clutter control.
We finished cleaning my mom’s garage (above and below) around noon on Sunday, so I went with my mother-in-law to tackle the grandparents’ basement. There was about a fifteen-foot-long space of totes stacked five high and two wide. All of it was Christmas decorations.
My mom used the word consolidate often throughout the weekend, so it was stuck in my head as we cleaned my grandparent-in-law’s decorations. We plucked through many totes only halfway full or not well packed, so we could consolidate plenty. As we cleaned, we brought totes up to start decorating. My grandmother-in-law loves Christmas desperately, so it’s never too early to throw up decorations. That also means it’s nearly impossible to get her to get rid of anything, but she did!
I cleaned my great-grandmother-in-law’s friend’s house, and she asked me if I liked cleaning my own place. I kind of chuckled, but I realized I enjoy cleaning more when it’s for others. It’s long work, and it’s often not enjoyable from the dirt to the scrubbing and everything in between.
However, I’ve found it to be almost meditative, and it makes me weirdly satisfied to see a space more cleaned out. I say weirdly satisfied because I never walk into a room and think I have to clean it, but after I clean for someone I can feel the lightness in the room.
My mind flitters about so much sometimes I talk to myself while cleaning, a trait I’ve received from my dad. But thinking helps me feel better. I think cleaning helps me consolidate my own mind. It removes things I’ve hidden in opaque totes, examines them, and tosses the thought to a category: move on, fester, or save for later.
There are various subcategories to those three, and it takes time to consider things. Sometimes I get stuck on the same thoughts, and I think I didn’t accomplish anything until I leave and realize I’ve festered enough to decompress and leave the thought alone.
Consolidating valuable things helps us feel good that we don’t have to get rid of something that makes us joyful, but weighing its value is what allows us to consolidate. Many times we keep things because they make us remember the good time we had, but do we really need those things to help us remember? I think many of us do, which kind of makes me sad that we can’t simply remember those good times without having something to remind us.
You can think of it as a metaphor, but it’s oddly true; the more clutter built up in your home can signify the clutter that has taken up your head. So, sometimes, we have to find the joy in cleaning, in consolidating.
Even I kept three bags of my favorite stuffed animals. Years ago, I swore I’d give them to my children, and I still hold onto that thought. But, as the years go by, I donate a bag or two of stuffed animals that didn’t bring me instant happiness. It’s a process that takes time because it never ends. We’ll always have piles of stuff in this capitalist consumeristic country we’ve been blessed to call home.