I’ve been dealing with a lot of stuff lately, literally. I finally cleared off my desk last week. It was all cluttered with papers and mail and such and it didn’t really bother me but it’s so much nicer now. I was motivated by reading the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter after my father died. It’s a charming little book by an older woman (she repeatedly refers to herself as between 80-100) . I was worried she’d be like a Scandinavian Marie Kondo and while there are some things in common: keep the things that bring you joy and get rid of the rest, there is more humor and forgiveness in her tone. (Meanwhile, I recently read that now that Kondo has three kids she is admitting that her house is often a mess, just like the rest of us.) The author of Swedish Death Cleaning has lived long enough to experience a lot more: she raised five children, now has grandchildren, and doesn’t want them to go through what she did ridding herself of her parents’ stuff.
I thought of this when I went down to help my brother and sister clear out my dad’s apartment. They did the bulk of the work as I took a train down and was only there for the day. They got rid of fourteen boxes of stuff as well as lots of other clothes and things to give away. My parents were far more organized than I will ever be and still there was a lot to go through. We divvied up a lot of things, including thirteen boxes of photos. We are each taking some and will eventually go through them, scanning the pictures we want to keep and getting rid of the rest. While it was bittersweet, a kind of denouement, there’s been much in the process that has been healing. I feel so close to my siblings and in-laws. I feel lucky to have such a loving devoted family. One of my dad’s good friends stopped by and I realized that we’ll likely never see her again and that made me sad. His wonderful life at the Quadrangle, the place that he lived the last twelve years of his life, is gone. He is no longer with us. I have a lifetime of good memories and now, so many things that go with it.
My niece and nephews and B – my dad’s grandchildren – all took some stuff too, practical things like glasses and plates and pictures and other items they can use or display in their homes. So his memory will continue on. I took a lot of items, a lamp and books and his genealogy research on the family and slides to scan and all those photos, binoculars I can use when I go to see dance or theater, which hopefully I will have more of in the future.. The things that are being donated will go to a fund that helps residents who need help with paying their rent. Even in death my father wanted to help out those in need.
There were five of us clearing things out and still it was a lot of work. Meanwhile I am on my own. It’s hard to be motivated to keep going, to attack other piles of things. We have bins full of files related to V and I procrastinate attacking them as it brings up so many difficult memories and complicated feelings. Years of trying so many therapies and treatments that didn’t work, and all the evaluations he’s had that never touched on his innate and unique forms of intelligence. When standardized tests only measure verbal or math skills he is off the charts, barely making any percentages in ability. If only they measured other forms of intelligence such as musical, spatial relations, naturalistic. These are all real types of intelligence according to developmental psychologist who study such things yet they are often overlooked when we measure someone’s intellect. I will save these bins for last as they’re painful to look through, but I’ll have to get to them eventually.
I’d like to move at some point after V is settled in his group home, to find an apartment or condo, something far more low maintenance than a house from 1907 and a big yard. But the process of emptying out a basement and attic of stuff will take a while. My goal is to conquer one little corner of space at a time, to get back to sorting the keep, give away, and throw away piles like we did at my father’s place.
For now I sit at my nice clean desk and see the remnants of snow that is melting away. I took photos right after it fell to have that memory of its ephemeral beauty, to remind myself of the one snowfall of the season. I’m horrified by global warming and yet this unseasonably mild winter has been a godsend for life with V, allowing us lots of walks. I plan on taking the same approach to my stuff: taking pictures of those items I want to remember and getting rid of the rest. It’s a long process ahead and I hope to stop procrastinating. Every day I walk past boxes and bins of my writing and other papers and old photos and clothes to be sorted and the wastebasket and bags beckoning to be filled. Stuff is everywhere and eventually I’ll have to get to it all.