Cleaning Up My Act

My preferred mode of living would be to lounge on a fancy fainting couch, outfitted in some impossibly glamorous and impractical robe spilling generously around me, and concern myself only with the gentle wafting of a feathered fan at the trained hand of a happily subservient husband. Failing all of that, my reality is far more mundane and woefully rigorous. For some reason, this summer has been about cleaning up and clearing out. Perhaps I’d finally gotten sick of seeing clutter everywhere. Perhaps my Virgo nature finally had enough. Perhaps I was afraid we were one cat away from turning into a disturbingly-real ‘Grey Gardens’ scene. Joking aside, I actually think it was more meaningful and deep than that.

My tendency to nest and focus on the house rears its head when I’m afraid – and this summer has done more to stoke my fears than any other summer on record (with one possible exception). The atrocious attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the shootings in Dallas, the attack in France, and on a more personal level the unexpected death of a dear friend’s brother – all of them conspired to haunt the sunny season. In addition to that, the rise and rise of Donald Trump, the scariest thing to happen to this country in a long while, was and remains reason for serious consternation. Taken together, these events coalesced into a very dark stretch.

At such moments, I tend to turn inward. Though The Delusional Grandeur Tour continued in book and theory, my traveling largely diminished. The focus was on my home. It began in the side yard, with a massive one-man clearing effort. 37 lawn bags later, and several cuts and bruises whose scars still remain, we are once again able to see through to the neighbors’ fine yard (as well as to the recent carnage of a hawk, who had torn a squirrel inside out and left its insides as a meaty gift to a thousand flies).

Back inside, and rather foolishly during a run of extra-hot days, I focused on the attic. Half of it was decent, finished living space when we first bought the house. I had torn out the ugly (and smelly) carpeting (every square inch of which was glued to the floor with industrial strength crazy glue) and painted the floor and paneled walls a bright white. The space instantly opened up, and a collection of whitewashed accents lent the space a pleasingly shabby-chic style that went well with some floral curtains and an old-fashioned floral-bordered bed spread. I’d lie on the bed and read at night. It was quiet space – no television or stereo – and on rainy nights you could hear the drops pattering on the roof.

Over the years, however, that space became a repository of anything and everything. It started with clothing (which very much formed the bulk of items that towered toward the ceiling). There were two floor-length closets in the eaves, but as extensive as they were, they soon filled to the breaking point. After that, it was a free-for-all. Seasonal items like outside pillows and tablecloths, summer cups and holiday serving trays, the wide-ranging collection of curtains that I kept switching out like last season’s shoes – oh, and all those shoes – accumulated and piled up to the point that it was difficult to walk from one end to the other. It became a total hoarder’s room, and I finally got sick of it.

I got a big box of industrial strength 55 gallon garbage bags and filled them all. Hundreds of items of clothing were donated, and well over a decade’s worth of collected detritus and debris, the pretty wreckage of all things whimsical – feathers and hats and costumes and jewelry – the beads and sequins and fabrics of silk and velvet – were unceremoniously tossed. I was ruthless because I had to be, and there’s still a ton that needs to go, but for now it’s enough to be able to lie on the bed, listen to the rain, and escape into a book.

The attic is once again open for business.

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