Summer Cleaning

Been a whole lotta cleaning going on this summer. Seems everyone I know is pitching, storing, trying to get a handle on their “stuff.” A child is leaving home (and leaving stuff behind); another is returning (with a whole new batch of stuff). And after two decades plus there is just too much stuff and somethinghastobedone NOW!

Spring cleaning and summer cleaning are completely different animals. Spring cleaning greets a new season, throws open windows to let in sunlight and fresh air still tinged with winter. Spring cleaning looks forward. It’s frenzied, carried upon the crest of pent-up energy.

Come the tail end of summer only the wasps are frenzied — still building their damn grey paper condos in the space between our storm windows. It’s too hot to climb tiptoe to reach that last speck of dust. Summer cleaning means retreating to the cool of the basement. It’s sitting on the floor, sifting through boxes and inhaling the mustiness and memory of old letters, baby clothes, and cards signed with paint-smeared handprints no bigger than a plum.

Must my husband save a two-foot high stack of Sports Illustrateds? Surely the players have all been traded or sentenced for drug possession or sidelined with hamstring injuries. Do I really need to hold on to my grandparents’ hardsided grey valise? It reeks of cigarette.

My mother and grandmother saved every letter I ever wrote to them and so I spend time with past selves, reliving my junior year abroad, first job jitters, homesickness at sleepaway camp. I open a sealed envelope and see the heavily scrolled border of the page within. A forgotten bearer bond! But no. The document is merely an appraisal for my mother’s Persian lamb coat, the coat that used to hang in the hall guest closet. My favorite hiding place because I could always count on finding a few quarters in the coat pockets.

Spring cleaning decisions are a cinch — toss, toss, toss. Who names a dust bunny or cries to keep it? But summer decisions are hard. My husband insists he will read these magazines. Who am I to deprive him of the pleasure of reading? I save my grandmother’s suitcase because every time I slide those metal latches and lift the lid I inhale the shadow of smoke exhaled by her very breath. I am five-six-seven-eight and with her once again. Spring cleaning heralds the start of a new year. Summer cleaning tells us time, so much time, has passed.

And so I sit and cull. Remember and toss. Save and savor. The garbage bags grow bigger. The boxes in which I save grow smaller. And then I come across two blue plastic spoons molded into the shape of airplanes. We bought them years ago in hopes of feeding grandchildren one day. I make a note so I do not forget where I put them. In a box. Tucked away for the future.

Just in case this has made you too wistful, click here for George Carlin’s classic take on stuff.

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6 thoughts on “Summer Cleaning

  1. Kerry Herman

    Oh so true — and I seem to be the only one in our house who feels chronically overwhelmed by stuff. Ned revels in all of his, and Dyanna loves to live among hers, then easily creates bags for me (!) to get rid of – mostly clothes as she molts into some new self. I’m finding it easier to let go of my stuff – maybe part of trying to find newness, not feel bogged down in middle age, explore new places for myself as I see my child moving out into her world, and remember what that felt like. Thanks for the Carlin piece! He always had it right.

  2. Debra

    I love the image of Dyanna molting into a new self. And the letting go does, as you said, make room for space — for exploration, trying on new experiences, clothes, identities. Let’s hear it for middle age!

  3. Nancy Kott

    “Wistful” is an understatement Debra! All week long it’s been decision upon decision, pitch or not, what, how and where to store those kindelings of long buried memories. What descriptive and intelligible sense you’ve made of all of this!


  4. Debra

    Thank you, Sweetie. It’s an ongoing struggle over how much we keep and what we let go. Especially because, until we come across so many of these items, we have forgotten all about them. Until the next time we begin sifting.

  5. Aunt Judy

    It’s been that kind of summer for me, too! The project is my office – my own private space – that has been looking more and more like an archeological dig – layers of trash separating important stuff.
    The major surgery that was my first excuse was three years ago, and the wonderful leisurely car trips of one and two years ago may have become a thing of the past, with the use of gasoline being not only a luxury but downright un-American. Now that my husband’s 8-week ordeal of sciatic agony seems to have come to an end, I am out of excuses and have worked seriously on the dig. Lots of notices relating to where I stand vis a vis the dreaded “doughnut hole” of Medicare, and snapshots of grandchilderen I enlarged and printed but found not good enough to frame, but still I linger over them.

  6. Only the Half of It

    Sadly, I “get” your hubby’s magazine issue. I used to stockpile mine and finally got over that… although I did for a time (less so now) go through and pull out articles “to read” and then that became a pile. UG!
    As for keeping some of the things you mention — old letters, certain family treasures — I always think that’s fine. My concern is what happens after I’m gone and no one wants them. I supposed a bonfire would be in order.
    My issue is hanging onto stuff that I just liked, or once loved, and yet is out of style, or a little worn. That stuff takes up too much of my precious space. Why I hang on in beyond me. I wish I was more like friends who pitch and purge with wild abandon.

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