I hate clutter. I abhor piles of papers, countertops with anything more than the necessities. I get anxious when beds are unmade, when dishes sit too long in the sink. I control my world by keeping stuff where it goes. I can frequently be heard telling the family, “Trash goes in the trashcan.” I follow the rule of least times touching something, thus it is easier to put it away rather than create another pile. Some in this household may whisper that I can be a little hard to live with, like when I have thrown away wallets and plane tickets, picked up a glass someone was still drinking from. I get that I go overboard some days, days when my world is feeling unsettled and I need to be in charge. At one point when I was particularly stressed, all of my closets were cleaned and the attic held totes with a color coded system. While my inner demons battled, I maintained completed control over my territory.
My Chef has a different system. He drinks from a cup, sets it down, wanders away, the cup is lost to him for days. He is never really finished with the newspaper. Tools and gloves and buckets, parts of projects sit where they were last used, ready for the next time he gets a chance to begin again. It may be months, it may be never. He hasn’t seen the top of his dresser for 15 years. Clearly his system drives me insane.
Thus we began to clean the garage. The dumping ground of all the items that I don’t want in the house. The place where totes for kids go, kids who were moving out and needed dishes and silverware but then left without the positive transition, left without the totes. The garage holds all the items for Goodwill, bags of clothing and outgrown toys. Lamps that don’t work or no long fit the decor, chairs and bar stools that are broken or just ugly. Cords, so many cords, for electronics we surely no longer own. Planters, jugs of weed killer, gallons of paint all found their way onto the garage floor in the haphazard system that worked for no-one, the garage we all avoided except to open the door and add more discarded but not yet trash remnants of our lives. Until yesterday.
We faced the monster, we worked through our different systems. I determined everything was trash, my Chef found actual storage spots for the things he couldn’t part with. In the process though, we took a walk through our shared history. We found old pieces of tile from flooring makeovers, we found mugs from trips long ago. “Where was this door originally?” “Does Plum still fit into this chair?” Old shirts commemorating high school sports and college associations reminded my Chef of better days. There were treasures to be found in that garage, we just had to dig deeply enough.
As the sun began to sink, our pile of trash grew, out trunks were full for the trip to Goodwill. Our garage was cleaner, organized, emptied of most of the unnecessary. My Chef was tired, the good kind of tired that comes from work and tough decisions. With each item he placed in the trash bag, he let go of some weight. The burden of stuff, the yoke of clutter destroys his sense of control as well but the voices from childhood telling him to always keep the box, to save the papers get in the way. He is also used to having a staff clean up behind him, he is accustomed to being the leader, the boss, who directs others, not the guy who cleans up at the end. It has been a really long time since he was that guy. Skills not used get rusty, like the broken hammer head we discovered in a puddle of water. Yesterday he got to be that guy, cleaning up his mess, getting honest about what to keep, what to discard. Maybe it wasn’t just about the garage. Throwing away pieces of the past is a leap of faith, making room for a tomorrow you can’t see yet. Empty boxes hold old promises, the stale air of what once was. Holding on so tightly to broken cords chains us to a place of fear, a state of worry. Letting go of all the stuff was letting God be in control, trusting God with our tomorrows. We made room, we cleaned up our mess, we got ready for our next phase.
We took our trip to Goodwill, came home and made a fire of the old doors and unneeded boxes. We drink wine and beer, celebrated our success and looked to the future. I expect an Olympic medal for our efforts, some sort of trophy or letter from the President. Our garage can actually hold two cars. More importantly, my Chef is holding his head a little higher. A huge task completed, a job well done. When you have a broken heart, sometimes you just need a disastrous garage to help with the healing. It was a good day. If he starts to sink, no worries, I still have the attic. God surely wants some room there as well.