Last weekend I was going through some stuff in my basement. My basement is the final frontier for the decluttering kick I’ve been on the last few months. I saved it for last because it’s the most complicated, and emotionally fraught.
The basement is essentially four rooms: two where my sister lives and two that contain the washer, dryer, furnace, and the most motley assortment of items ever. There’s the chest freezer and pool table that the people who sold me the house couldn’t get out the door and left behind. There’s a bunch of stuff my grandpa brought when he lived here, my other sister stored here and never took, a bunch of stuff from various family members that my mom moved in here and no one ever took, items belonging to old boyfriends, furniture that is no longer in use “but still good”, items related to hobbies long discarded, paint cans, Christmas supplies and of course, my own keepsakes.
Years ago, I warned everyone in my family to take their stuff out of my basement or risk having it dumped, and gradually a lot of it went away, spurred on by several major basement floods.
But somehow, I’ve had a hard time getting rid of the things that “might come in handy some day” and the sentimental items. But since they were all in everyone’s individual boxes, I didn’t realize how much I actually had.
And that, my friends, is how when I sorted and combined items last weekend I realized I have at least 5 tape measures, over 20 screw drivers, 3 electric drills, 6 hammers, 4 complete socket sets, over a dozen wrenches, an assortment of electric saws that I have no clue what they do, a couple of hand sanders, hundreds of screws and nails and nuts and bolts in various sizes, and lots and lots of things like paint rollers, random lengths of chain, electrical tape, replacement electrical outlets, picture hangers, wd40 and…..well, let’s just say I could open my own Ace Hardware Store.
Wait, do they still have Ace Hardware Stores? I’m realizing as I’m writing this, I haven’t seen one in a while.
Anyway, there are the tools and household items, but worse yet, there are the sentimental items. My dad’s baby book. My grandparent’s wedding silverware. My national honor society membership certificate. A million great old pictures of my dead relatives. Graduation announcements. These mysterious love letters to my dad from a woman he apparently dated before my mother. The program from my aunt’s jubilee as a nun. Kid’s art projects. The program from when I won a poetry contest in 6th grade. The really old microwave cart that my uncle got a patent on when microwaves were first invented. The Tiger Beat Magazine from when The Outsiders came out. Diplomas. Awards. Certificates.
Most of the items only mean something to me or a couple other people now, but they meant a lot to someone when they were boxed up. Now either they are sentimental to me personally, or I’m one of the few people still living who knows who the others are. Other than one aunt on each side of the family, and a cousin or two, the memories of these items are mostly lost, which makes me sad.
So what should I do about all this stuff in my basement?
On the one hand, I would feel terrible throwing out pictures of my grandpa and his siblings, for example, on the other hand, I know that some day I’ll be dead and my sister and brother, who are both younger than me and didn’t know that generation as well, will be going through a box trying to figure out who these people in the black and white photos are, and then will toss the photos. Or they’ll look through and think, wow, that’s cool, our sister was a certified mediator, and will toss the papers. As they should.
It all makes me think of this article I read recently about how people used to pass down things like furniture and china and silverware and now they don’t, so as generations pass on, people are having to dump these lovely old items because no one’s really into them anymore.
It’s like this Brownie camera from the early 60s I found in the basement last weekend. “Don’t throw that out,” my sister said, “it’s got to be worth a lot of money.”
“Actually, it’s not,” I told her. “I looked it up, they’re selling on eBay for $28.”
And that’s the problem: sentimentality is relative.
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