Cleaning house

by Alissa

Every so often Ace will gaze around our small full house and sigh and say, “Let’s just get rid of everything.”

He is much better at parting with old things than I am. But then he will go out and buy a replacement for something that he has convinced himself is no longer good, and will end up keeping them both. (Which is partly why until recently we possessed no fewer than three strollers for our one child, who prefers to walk herself anyway.)

Between his impulse to buy things and mine to hold on to them, we have amassed a clutter that sometimes feels comfortable, and often, in our storage-free townhouse, seems unmanageable: bikes in the kitchen, skis and curling brooms in bathroom, Duplo in three of our four kitchen drawers.

A friend moving from Seattle to St. Paul recently sent the following confession:

“I enjoy the stress of moving. As a museum person who is obsessed with objects, I love the opportunity to touch each one of my belongings.”

I’m not there yet, but it’s an ethos I’m trying to get into. Moving to Australia provides us a great moment of material reckoning. We won’t need half our clothes. Or be able to use 90% of our things that plug in. A part of me is excited for our new undressed and unplugged life. A part of me wants to stay holed up behind this cozy hedge of lamps and sweaters and never come out. But everything that remains around us three weeks from now will be packed into boxes, sealed in a container, and loaded on a ship bound for Sydney.

Last week I made a spreadsheet of the bulk of our stuff to value for shipping insurance, and handled a number of things–belongings–that I haven’t touched in years: my trophy from the Flathead County Spelling Bee, the pearlescent Italian heels I wore for high school graduation, three IKEA tool kits. Who needs three IKEA tool kits? Apparently we do.

I’ve been holding on to sweaters that I’ve had since middle school. I’m surrounded by childhood things and antiques from my parents that they cleared out of storage three or four foreign-service moves ago. The standing joke is that I house the Canada branch of the family museum. We have derived comfort and pleasure from living with these paintings, dishes and books, but they are not without weight. Getting ready to move brings up memories of other eras, of previous homes, and now distant loved ones who have sat in these chairs and eaten meals from these bowls with us.

As I write this, Ace and Octavia are playing and singing at the piano whose strings and hammers have formed part of my soundscape since I was eight. He is belting out Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.’ At the same time, the girl child chirps a repetitive loop of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ from the Curious George soundtrack. This is our conundrum, and our opportunity: when you gonna live your life right?

I’ve been reading a bit of Miss Minimalist for de-cluttering inspiration, and she is giving me courage to send some of our stuff out into the world to lead a more useful life. Since Ace’s employer will pay for our move, incentive to give it all away is not strong. Why part with what will need to be replaced on the other side?

Nonetheless, Octavia and I have built regular drop-off stops at the MCC thrift store into our routine this past month. The Mennonite Central Committee does good work the world over, and they are a magnet for interesting old things. For example, this amazing play barn that I decided we just shouldn’t live without:

Sweet hand-built barn

It came home with us on a recent run, and is now populated by a crew that typifies our entire household: IKEA farm animals, Albanian rug, hand-painted farmer and wife from a set my parents made for my brother and I in the very early ’80s, and a wool chicken that Ace hand-felted for Octavia’s first Easter egg hunt.

It will go with us as a piece of Ontario culture, and as a gift of sorts from Ace’s grandmother and father, who used these (now three-times superfluous) chairs before us:

So long, teak chairs! Grandma and O have a last sit in the MCC parking lot.

Somehow it is easier to let the chairs go with a photo to remember the day we found the barn.

Parting with the car in the background will be another story. Look for a photo journey of our last great road-trip in the Jetta in this space in July.