Jeff Farrell: A little spring cleaning can actually be a good thing

May. 10, 2014 @ 11:19 PM

A little spring cleaning can be good for the soul. Sometimes you have to get rid of things that are holding you back.

Years ago, I moved back into my parents’ old place — the house where I grew up — to take care of them as they were in decline.

I’ve stayed since, because it was convenient enough for me to reach from work and was paid off.

Those are nice advantages, but the house has its own problems and it’s time to move out so it can be renovated, and move on to a new place.

The trouble is the things that piled up — in the form of memories, and in terms of the things my parents had accumulated and that I had let pile up.

My dad was an inveterate pack rat. We once tried to clean out the garage, but it largely consisted of carrying junk out one door while he carried most of it right back through the other side.

I didn’t try to move much of that as I was caring for them, because it was enough effort to try and take care of them while working and having any kind of life. I didn’t for years after because it was still a huge project, and because it would make a wreck out of me.

Letting go of memories is tough.

And that’s what it felt like for me every time I started trying to sort through all of that, even as I thought about moving and selling the house.

I’d make time to go through some of the things and sort them, and discovered I’d turned into Dad. I was deciding to keep more than I’d throw out, and in truth I wasn’t even getting to stacks of boxes that could go.

So in the last few weeks, I decided it was time to be ruthless, and relentless.

I got a Dumpster, and started carrying things to it. No more pausing because I was filling up so many bags or boxes with nowhere to put them.

I’m still discovering things — old yearbooks that reveal hints at youthful romances or mention friends I met a couple of times, pictures I hadn’t seen, others that I thought had been burned.

There’s junk — I wasn’t kidding about dad being a pack rat; he never threw out a set of golf clubs, an old tool box or apparently any book, calculator or protractor he used in a long career as an engineer.

But there’s a lot that was either precious to me, or that I knew was precious to them.

And there’s the things that I can’t help but see as symbols: Furniture that I can’t possibly imagine taking with me on a move, but some of it has been there in the background so long now that I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when it’s gone.

One piece in particular I tripped over dozens of time a year — a buffet-style table that had sat in the kitchen, holding books and whatever didn’t need to be on the kitchen table, most of the time.

It was hideous — the type of thing you put on craigslist and it gets no replies. A friend once considered it as a window perch for a cat and as a spot to hold books, but decided it was too ugly. I stubbed my toe on it in the mornings, and considered taking an ax to it.

I felt a small pain when it was gone, because it had been there so long.

I also felt a lot of relief when I turned that corner as I stumbled toward coffee that morning and didn’t run into it or have to step around it.

Life’s like that. A little spring cleaning can be good. Even the things that need to go can take on their own value just by being there, if you let them.

Cleaning them out might be hard, but it’s the only way to leave room for something better.