I have been arrested. Brought to a standstill. My attempt to begin spring cleaning has stopped almost as soon as I started. I am not at the point of using goat paths through my home, but the snarl of objects, piles and unsorted collections is beginning to merge into a gyre of unwieldy proportions. I don't know where to begin.
I am beginning to suspect that I am a magnet for stuff. Barely-useful-enough stuff, even though it barely ever sees the light of day, tweaks long-forgotten memories and tugs at my heart. I try putting on a CD and turn up the volume. I pick up a box of baby clothes. Five songs later, I realize I haven't heard a thing.
Diving into even one small closet can sometimes use up vast amounts of time as I inspect and reinspect, peruse nearly forgotten pamphlets, booklets, art projects and boxes full of stored supplies for never-begun ideas. It's breathtaking to see how many times I've bought craft supplies and then stored them away. I feel a little embarrassed by this; perhaps I am coming unglued (forgive the pun). I stuff them away again where no one can see how many I've accumulated. I'm glad I'm alone and no one's taking notes.
When I do empty a closet, I am surprised to see how many things are actually stored in what looks like a very small space. Who knew closets were actually bottomless pits? Jesus made water out of wine; my closet produces a mountain from a cubic foot of storage space. It's miraculous. But, I never hear a choir of angels as I start a cleaning project. Instead, I hear a small whining dog called Guilt scratching at my resolve, begging me with sad eyes not to throw away a scrap of paper with a little drawing of a tree I scribbled when I was five.
Last year, I took many separate trips -- a truckload of odds and ends, all told-- books, things, stuff, to the Goodwill collection center. I don't remember what I took because there was so much of nothing consequential. I thought I was being vigorous and firmly decisive about getting rid of lots of stuff, but I take stock now and see I didn't really make a dent. I feel like a hamster on a wheel, facing forward with feet moving fast, not budging an inch.
I am in my garage looking at shelves that hold boxed and piled things. I don't know where to start, where to begin to dig. No X marks the spot. At what point does something become useless and forgotten anyway? Perhaps there is some sort of rubric for it: Keep it out of sight for one exact year and if you've forgotten about it, get rid of it forever.
I wonder what will happen if I disappear and someone comes in and finds my stuff. It does represent evidence of my life, lived as it has been on a modest scale. If I leave enough weird stuff behind I could look pretty interesting after all, perhaps even impressive in an off-kilter kind of way.
The hardest part about stored stuff is disconnecting yourself from it. You held that little lamp with a bit of excitement once and considered it quite a find, a good deal, just right for the bedroom. You wonder if it might come in useful again or if someone you know could use it in the future, a year from now, or if its weight in your hand, igniting tender memories, is its true and enduring purpose. It seems every object that you touch can transport you back in time, as if through a portal, to times and places otherwise forgotten.
Here I stand regarding the still-stuffed garage shelves, hoping for a miracle, a way to sort everything all at once and not walk the lane of memories and the emotions attached to them. I close my eyes and try to visualize space, roomy extravagant space, hoping it will manifest itself when I open my eyes again.
The push and pull is still there. Giving in to sentimental feelings when I pick up some things and scoffing at the silliness of others, I set about sorting through piles and stacks. I realize it's a stand-off, an equilibrium that is held between my heart and my mind: I know I have to make way for the future, but my heart tells me to set down the past very, very gently.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way