Decluttering the house remains high on my list of things I want to accomplish this year. So last Thursday, Al and I agreed to take time out from work responsibilities to once again tackle the basement family room.

recycling-1239302-639x426It’s really a family room in name only, now. Both of our daughters are grown and living on their own, and neither of us spends any time in that space anymore.

The television is huge and old and no longer attached to our cable, because we would have had to pay for an extra signal conversion box. The DVD player stopped functioning at some point. Toys and games from the girls’ childhood gather dust.

We had started the decluttering project last fall, but stalled when we discovered a major plumbing leak, fixed soon after. The room needed to dry out and, well, we got busy. Not that I didn’t think about it every time I went down to the laundry room on the other side of the basement.

But one of my greatest frustrations with my hands is that I cannot take on any part of major cleaning and organizing on my own. If I try to dust or vacuum, I inevitably smash my fingertips, which are severely resorbed and very painful when banged. Same goes for when I pull old papers out of boxes or move cartons or sort through books.

Fortunately, Al gets it and knows how to help me. He pulls stuff out of boxes and off the shelves, reviews it with me, and then we make a decision about what to do with it: donate, recycle or toss.

We must have sorted, stacked and bundled for at least four, maybe five hours. In the process, we filled several cartons and bags with print materials from my years working in higher ed marketing (I saved my favorites and sent the rest to recycling). I fished through a carton of old sewing patterns, many of which were decades old, and relinquished them for recycling, finally admitting to myself that they were really too dated to ever reconsider making. (The only ones I did save were patterns for a teddy bear, a timeless summer dress and my wedding gown.)

Of the toys, we saved the classics—LEGO sets, wooden Lincoln Logs, blocks, a box of flocked horses, jacks, marbles, a traveling backgammon board that I thought we had lost, a magnetic Scrabble game, jigsaw puzzles and the like. The rest of the old board games, baby puzzles and toys, we donated to a city neighborhood center. The spare office chair went to Goodwill. We pulled together family videotapes to digitize on DVDs. I wound balls of yarn from half-finished knitting projects to bring to my weaving class.

So, we made progress. But there is still a lot more to do. And it’s dusty down there. It took me at least a day to feel like my lungs were clear. I may just have to hire some help to get that under control before we excavate some more.

We are fortunate, I know, to have had the resources to acquire all this stuff over the years—and a home to fill. But the older I get, the less I want to keep. The most precious finds in our family room didn’t take much space at all: a few loose photographs of family events long forgotten, memories of the tapes we used to watch together when the girls were young, a little wooden toy village small enough to fit in a matchbox that had once been my mother’s.

Ultimately, the best way for me to preserve what I really care about, in the least space, with no cleaning or dusting or other maintenance required, is simply to write about it. Thank goodness, I can still rely on my hands for that.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Image Credit: Griszka Niewiadomski


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    You really made me think with your comment that the way to preserve what you care about is to write about it. I’m wondering how to apply that strategy at my home. I have actually been a demon recycler and Salvation Army donor over the years, but it still seems like there’s way too much stuff in my house. Some of it is technically my daughters’ and some of it is my husband’s, but a large portion of the clutter for which I’m responsible comprises books. Turns out that out-dated professional publications have virtually no use anywhere. They are not even easily recyclable. Libraries don’t want them, and no one would read them for pleasure! I once persuaded the used textbook buyer who comes by my office periodically to take several boxes of them, but he confided that he would only sell them by the pound to be pulped. I supposed I will have to downsize my home library radically in a few years, but maybe before that happens, I should pull out a few key titles and write an autobiography based on what I was doing when I read each book . . . it might work.

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