Dealing with Existential Angst whilst Deep Cleaning

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Shortly after returning from a long weekend get-away to Montreal with Sarah, I started thinking about the time off I had earned from work, and how to spend it. We had just returned from one trip, and didn’t have any immediate plans — or any funds in our travel budget. We’re discussing what to do for our sixteenth anniversary in October; and we usually end the year with chill around the various holidays, but that still left me with at least a week of time available.

The solution was to do something we had been discussing for a few years, but knew it would take hard work. What we didn’t budget for was the emotional exhaustion.

Technically, I started the basement part of the cleanup a week or so before the first day of our working vacation. We had invited our friend Jessamyn to help and offered her dinner and drinks in exchange. When she replied, she said she wanted to do it so much she’d take us out.

Friday night, we loaded the truck with as much trash as we could to free up room for moving about. Saturday I took the recycling to the transfer station by myself.  Saturdays are busy, and I was in the queue to park. The truck in front of me waved for another person to back out so they could leave, and then parked. I noticed another car trying to back out and I too waived and waited.

I parked right next to the truck that had been in front of me. As I got out of the car, I noticed the man from the truck was struggling with a piece of furniture. I started to ask him if I could help him when I noticed what he had: an old singer sewing machine in its original cabinet. Instead of offering to help him move it, I asked him if he was sure it was destined for the free pile. Then I shook his hand and said I would take it home where it will be loved.

When I arrived home, I was dripping in sweat, and had a grin a mile wide.  I opened the bulk head doors and called down to Sarah.

“I have a surprise for you,” I shouted!

“What is it?” she replied as she started up the stairs toward me.

I led her to the car, and before I could even get it out she gasped.

I slowly opened the cabinet, and told her it was complete including accessories. Then she started crying, so I guess I made the right decision.

My mother-in-law, Nancy, came out of her apartment and Sarah called her over to show off her new toy.

We had a nice lunch, and then got back to work. By the time we finished our first day the place was messy but noticeably less cluttered. We celebrated in Bethel with pizza at Cockadoodle and drinks and pool at Babe’s Bar.

Sunday we started pulling old cardboard boxes off the basement’s built-in wall of shelves and sorting them into plastic totes. This was our rough pass, and we tossed the obvious things quickly into the recycling or trash for the next haul.

At a good stopping point, we broke for a quick lunch. Sarah took off for spinning group, and after, did the weekly grocery run to the co-op. I used the time she was out to break down cardboard boxes, sort the recycling, and organize the piles for next transfer station run on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, we sorted through more personal boxes transferring items from cardboard to plastic. Jessamyn arrived just as we broke for a snack, and we chatted a bit before getting stuck-in.

I tackled the homebrew equipment and the piles of empty bottles creeping into the room. This area of the basement is destined to be where we will brew, and right then that was the carrot leading me. When I was done, I joined Sarah and Jessamyn in the tools area of the basement.

The work bench long ago became a pile of tools and today, with Jessamyn’s organizational awesomeness, we would organize all of them into the tool box. The one sitting empty next to the table for the last 13 years. With three people we cranked through the work in a few hours. We thanked Jessamyn who went on her way to some other civic project, and then got stuck back in.

Tuesday started with a two car, double run to the transfer station. So many of the items in these runs ended up on the free pile, and people were taking our things almost as soon as we put them down. One person’s trash!

When we got back from the transfer station, I returned to the cellar and Sarah went up to the upstairs guest bedroom we refer to as the Library or the Office. In addition to the basement, we decided it was important to clear out the clutter busting at the closet doors.  Most of the boxes on the shelves in this closet are her memorabilia, while most of mine is in the basement.

When we finally finished for the day we both felt a palpable sense of melancholy, and even — in my case — existential angst.

We are childless by choice, and I had a vasectomy a few years after we were married. We are still very happy with this decision made based on medical family history, and other criteria. I am an only child. Sarah is an only child. My mother died when I was 15, and my father died a few years after Sarah and I were wed, just before my 40th birthday.

As I went over every single scrap of paper that we shoved into boxes, I kept thinking “why am I keeping my old school report cards, and year books?” That quickly turned into “why am I keeping my mother and father’s childhood memorabilia, for that matter?” The straw that nearly broke me was when I realized I am also the keeper of my paternal grandparent’s last worldly goods. My emotions were all over the place. Do I have a responsibility to keep some of the things? If I don’t, am I a horrible person? Can I even pull the trigger and toss these things into the trash?

I spoke with Sarah about this, and she shared her own similar emotions. Then I slept on it.  I decided to go over the items slowly, and sort them. Anything — minus a few photos and newspaper clippings I plan to use for my genealogy research — belonging to my grandparents, is to be boxed up and sent to one or more of my Scully cousins. I then sorted out photos into their own containers, and decided on a limited number of my mother and father’s things. These are touchstones for me, but once I am gone, they can be disposed of in any manner.

We decided to wait until Friday for our last trip to the reclamation center, and spent Thursday sorting through the large piles in the library, all of which are destined for ebay or free pile if they don’t sell. Some of these items will no doubt stir memories of the past, but I am hopeful they will a little joy to someone.

This is what I did on my summer vacation, and I am quite happy that I did.