Cleaning Out

Moving day

A funny thing happened on our move into a new house. We lost almost everything – more than two decades worth of old stuff that had been stored in our bat-plagued attic and damp basement. Gone: Yearbooks and kids clothes and glassware that didn’t match towels that didn’t match and an almost full set of silverware with a few spoons gouged by the garbage disposal; perfectly good pots with missing lids; phones that still worked; record albums, and every mug that a child had given us for a special occasion; Barbies and board games we no longer knew how to play; our kids’ college texts books and out-of-season-out-of-style clothes. The artificial Christmas tree and the plastic Halloween pumpkins and the Thanksgiving cornucopia. Gone, gone, gone!

Maybe this would upset some people. But I’m here to tell you that cleaning out in one fell swoop was the best thing ever.

What happened was this: my husband and I sold our house to a friend who was going to use our big, old 1917 home as a group home for disabled adults – her son among them. She was excited about having him close by. I was happy to sell it for a good cause. My husband and I were down-sizing. There was a two month gap before anyone would be moving in to our old place. The roof was going to be replaced and there was lots of work to be done on the old house. “So you can take your time cleaning out the basement and the attic,” my friend said.

Except we couldn’t. The roofer, we soon learned, needed to insulate the attic. City code demanded remodeling the basement. Everything needed to be out! Like yesterday!

So what did we do? My friend took the really good stuff to a church rummage sale. Then we got a dumpster, hired someone and in one day threw everything away. What can’t be replaced? Nothing. What do I miss? Nothing.

I’m not making a case for wanton wastefulness. There’s certainly enough in the landfills now. But “maybe I could use this someday” is not a good reason to store it away.

Here’s a few tips for anyone who has a house with too much storage, what NOT to save.

1. Stuff you think your kids might use when they set up their own apartment. Even if they want your cast-offs, chances are, these days, that your grown children won’t live in the same town. Our daughters have lived in New York, London, Austin, Chicago.

2. All your books. I’m an English teacher. I love books. And we have lots. Which is why we had some in our moldy basement. Ecch! And those college texts? They were out-of-date before our kids even graduated.

3. Toys and games. There’s always pieces missing. No intstructions. If you don’t keep these on the main floor level, you don’t really want them.

4. Clothes. Not worn for a year – goodbye. You might get thinner. (You might get younger!) If you stand at the closet and think maybe you’ll wear those pants “next year” but you never put them on once “this year, ” goodbye. Don’t put them up in the attic! Donate them to Goodwill!

5. Baby equipment. Today’s baby swings, cribs, infant and car seats have different safety regulations than years ago. Give these to someone who’s going to use this equipment fairly soon. No need to store it for decades.

6. Collections of old stuff that you think might be valuable, chances are, they aren’t.

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