Too Much Cleaning

We got a lot done this weekend, and I’m weary of the work. 

The sign went up outside the house on Wednesday.  No showings so far, but the realtor said we’d have a week or so to really get the house ready.  So that was the main task this weekend. 

By Thanksgiving, we’d already done what was necessary for staging the main rooms, getting baskets, boxes and piles of stuff off floors (doesn’t everyone stack belongings on their floors?)  The closets have been re-organized and decluttered.  Somewhat. 

The basement awaited.  We’d ventured down there last weekend, took a quick look around, felt unequal to the task, and escaped — quickly — after agreeing that a number of items, mainly old lumber, should be put out for the next trash collection.  On Monday, with the dreaded items in mind, I asked Mr. NYer if he needed help getting the recycling together — I’d be happy to tie up newspapers if only he took responsibility for the basement.  I asked twice,  but didn’t really explain my reasoning.  He said no, and I didn’t push.  Only later did I realize that he’d “forgotten” about the basement (which I didn’t mention, so I think we were in mutual denial).  Friday, needing some activity to work off Thanksgiving dinner, I decided the basement could wait no longer. 

Why do we save bits and pieces of old projects?  Why would I ever need the 30-inch piece of maple quarter-round once the toe-molding has been installed?  I know why I  kept the paint — it’s nearly impossible to get rid of it.  New York  City asks residents to dispose of old paint through evaporation, and put only empty cans in the recycling.  Evaporation?  I had over a dozen nearly full gallons of various shades, and it’s November.  Then there was the old vacuum that no longer worked.  An old flue pipe.  Chipped and overpainted old crown molding.  With nails.  I began sorting through it.

Between Friday and Saturday, we hauled and emptied and made piles  that will go out for the garbage collection on Tuesday.  I just hope there isn’t a limit to what you’re allowed to place at the curb.  Maybe we can put some of it in front of our neighbors’ houses.   Worse, once we’d cleared some open space, we saw the true extent of the dust and dirt.  Frankly, we rarely sweep the basement, and certainly hadn’t since replacing the old oil burner several years ago.  First I attempted a broom, but nearly choked.  Then we pulled out the shop vac, and pretty much clogged it up.  But between shop vac and broom, the basement isn’t nearly as scary as it was.   And my cough is getting better.  Thanks.

The once-and-future home of Soon-to-be-Abandoned, the large attic room, had been made presentable last week.  On Friday, though, Soon-to-be-Abandoned borrowed the SUV and began moving out of his apartment and back to the homestead.  He continued moving out of the apartment on Saturday.  Despite a stop at the storage facility to stow redundant furniture and cooking equipment, Soon-to-be-Abandoned brought a lot of stuff back to the now-unpresentable attic room.

Remember the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” in which every action leads inexorably to a consequence?  My house has become the physical embodiment of that, a kind of moving shell game where we’re trying desperately to hide the pea. 

Too many metaphors.  Sorry.

There were only way two ways to free up room for Soon-to-be-Abandoned to store his stuff. First, he had to clean out his old stuff from the dresser and closet to make room for the current clothes.  Next, I had to try to clean out space in the dark, dark room so he had a place to stash what wouldn’t fit in the closet, under the bed, or in the dresser.   The dark, dark room runs the width of the house under the roof with doors at either end that conveniently open into the attic.  Inside the dark, dark room is the central air conditioning equipment and ductwork, which cannot be removed.  Then there’s a trunk with, with … stuff in it.  I haven’t checked it lately and decided not to look at it today.  Assorted luggage is kept near a door too, and of course we’ll be needing those.  On the other side, I discovered an old stereo system, a telescope, several years worth of Guitar magazines, a rod and reel, and a fan — all items belonging to Soon-to-be-Abandoned.  Finally, there was my childhood dresser.   Three drawers held baby blankets and sweaters, many handmade by my mother.  I left those for another day.  Two smaller drawers yielded letters and ephemera dating back to my own and Mr. NYer’s college  days, when stationery, an 8 cent stamp, and perhaps some sealing wax was all that kept you in touch with friends.  I emptied those, brought the stacks downstairs and announced that it was nostalgia time.

We each spent about an hour reading through the old letters before we put them in the recycling.  I saved only a few, including the few letters written by my parents.  Reading those, I understood, perhaps for the first time, the real emotion behind my mother’s simple words “I miss you.”  Her letters were the kind that people  probably used to write a lot, full of the small details of the everyday.  Staten Island’s first Macy’s had just opened, and Richmond Avenue had been widened and paved.  “It’s hard to believe,” she wrote, “That Richmond Avenue could be so smooth.”   In the next letter, she wrote that my Aunt Alice had called one Saturday and suggested they drive out to the new Macy’s.  She had stew on the stove, but in an hour was able to leave and check out the new store.  In that letter, she also mentioned missing me, and how, to combat the blues, she had suggested a Sunday drive to my father.  They went up to West Point, a frequent destination of my childhood, walked around for an hour, stopped for supper at a diner in Ft. Lee, and read the papers when they returned home. 

When my mother died I took some of her furniture and a few other items in the hope that they would keep her alive for me.  I will probably leave the desk behind; I’ve already decided to give away her bright red  LL Bean down parka.  None of those things recall  her the way those two letters — only two!– can.  Those I will keep.

At any rate, the attic/dark, dark room cleaning didn’t accomplish much in the way of removing stuff from the house.  I’m leaving it to Soon-to-be-Abandoned, who is faced with some tough decisions himself about what to keep and what to heave.  Only he knows what memories come with each item, and only he knows if the memories can endure without a thing to attach them to. 

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve spent the better part of three days tossing stuff and getting gritty.  I’ve had enough for now.  It’s too soon to really begin packing, and the house is ready to be shown.  So let the showing begin!

And next week?  My plans are to get together with friends.  Folks — my calendar is open.

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