Abby’s daughter Chele left yesterday morning after spending much of the week helping me with the “great clean-out.” Abby was a collector, and collected a lot of stuff. Chele and I made a big dent in it, but there remains much to do.
Today, for example, I bagged up and carted down to the next door neighbor a huge number of skeins of yarn from Abby’s sewing room. I toted bag after bag down there, where the Nipps, dad Mike, mom Joyce, and daughter Jen combed through the hundreds – possibly thousands – of skeins.
One consequence of this activity is itching and sneezing. You can’t really dust or clean yarn, and much of it had been sitting for years in open cubbies, baskets, and tote bags, sometimes attached to the very beginning of some afghan or baby blanket Abby had started but didn’t like and set aside.
With every skein of yarn I picked up, I dislodged airborne poofs of house dust, dust mites, mouse droppings, spider eggs, and who knows what else, some small fraction of which I inhaled.
So in addition to that excellent feeling of being super-tired from three hours of carrying bag after bag of yarn 100 years in the spring sunshine, my nose and throat are itchy and clogged.
Also, here is my column from yesterday…
Picture this: the big clean-out
My stepdaughter Dawna is with me this week (she goes by her childhood nickname Chele when she is in Oklahoma.) She is helping me clean and organize the house after the death of my wife Abby, Chele’s mom.
The week has been incredibly productive.
After someone leaves a household, for whatever reason, their possessions, style, and sense of organization leaves with them, but there are things about them and their stuff that merit preservation.
Many people, for example, are “collectors.” They organize their memories and thoughts about their lives and loved-ones by holding on to objects. Maybe those are movie tickets from a first date, or a commemorative t-shirt from a visit to the zoo. Maybe it is a bronzed baby shoe or a souvenir spoon from Mount Rushmore.
Abby was such a person. Sometimes she would be going through a desk drawer, looking for a pen, and come across an old coin that was in her dad’s shoebox, and almost cry because she felt like she was holding a piece of someone she loved and lost.
I am not so much that person. As you might guess from my career as a photographer and writer, I am a recorder rather than a collector. For me, the most important way to preserve our lives and loves is in the way we record and share it. Photographs are the biggest part of that, but a journal can be the story of your life, which is why I recommend starting one if you don’t have one already.
Chele has been a huge – no, ginormous – help in separating the the wheat from the chaff. In addition to doing much of the labor of hauling off scrap paper and dusty old furniture, in a way, she is giving me permission to clean out all the stuff that was practical but not emotionally significant. Over the past seven months, I’ve been in a holding pattern, not because I thought Abby was going to get well and come home (though that would have been wonderful), but simply out of respect for her and her life.
I’ve really enjoyed another aspect of these clean-out efforts: giving away old furniture, broken power tools, unused sets of dishes, whatever, “country style,” meaning we leave it by the side of the road, and pretty much always within the hour it would be gone. If it’s not, we will dispose of it in another way, but I really like the idea of someone seeing an old chair at the curb, and taking it home, maybe to fixing it up and painting it in fancy colors and putting it in their flower garden. In fact, I love that idea: unused things becoming useful again.