There’s no crying in spring cleaning

By Chuck Sigars | Jun 06, 2012

In the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model of Northwest weather, which doesn’t actually exist but really should, all five stages occur in June. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Possibly a sixth (“ugh”).

I’m big into bargaining myself, willing to negotiate with the elements. I’ll put up with wind and rain for 23 hours as long as I’m allowed enough barometric tranquility for a walk outside.

In other words, denial.

But I’ve learned enough in three decades’ worth of late springs to leave my gloves out of the drawer until after Independence Day, and to keep at least one sweatshirt handy, just in case. Which is what I was wearing the other day, ducking my head against some really annoying raindrops, when I noticed the baby stroller on the side of the road.

It just sat there, minding its own business, although the meaning was obvious. Come, take it, it’s free, we don’t need it anymore, and actually it looked like a pretty decent stroller, although June will fix that soon enough. I try not to even leave my lawn outside in June.

I thought about that lonely stroller for a long time. Left out in the rain, unwanted and unnecessary, representing a past that no longer is, whatever the reason. And I was tempted to go back and hang a sign on it.

“Don’t even THINK of writing a short story about this,” it would say.

There is no poignancy in junk, in other words, and I know something about this. There are no brave little toasters in this house, only broken ones. I’m notoriously unsentimental about our stuff, to the point where my wife makes cute sad faces when I mention that I found another ratty stuffed animal hanging around the basement, as if waiting for its Pixar audition.

I don’t care. My memories are intact, at least the long-term ones; I don’t need reminders of another era, when my children were small and sat in high chairs. Have you ever seen a high chair after a year or two of use? Disgusting.

My heart has been hardened by time and the physics of living in the same house for decades. Nature doesn’t abhor a vacuum as much as embraces it. Nature gets all tingly at seeing an open space, just waiting to be filled with broken furniture. Entropy always increases, and gravity? Gravity works the same way it always has. Stuff goes down, and in our case to the basement and finally the garage.

I’ve complained about this for years, whined about it, written about it, analyzed it. I’ve done everything, in fact, except do something about it. I’d try to get organized at times, which would result in moving useless things from one corner to another, and always my garage got busier.

I was preparing for divestment, I told myself, but what I really imagined was picking up my house, turning it upside down and shaking it.

Dreaming doesn’t get the job done, though, so eventually push came to something that looked remarkably like a shove. I couldn’t close my garage door, and I wanted to. The time had come.

So had the Northwest spring, which you already knew. Waiting for a sunny day didn’t seem practical or even sane, so I emptied my garage while the rain reminded me I should have done this years ago, preferably in August. I rented a truck and persuaded an old friend that manual labor might be good for the soul, which is pretty much a lie.

It was an archeology project, as it turned out, uncovering artifacts of an ancient civilization that looked suspiciously like the 1990s, including a Soloflex. We could have been talking about Monica Lewinsky or doing an impromptu Macarena, that’s what it felt like. And as we tracked mud back and forth, discovered a concrete floor and a bunch of work gloves, a couple of shovels I’d forgotten about, and a box of cassette tapes (seriously?), I got my garage back.

I go down there now and sit sometimes, just to take in the emptiness. I could form a band in this garage, I think, or maybe even park cars in it, who knows? The door closes. Lawn care tools are neatly organized, just in case I get a whim. The stray cats have, I hope, found another home.

I wait out the season now, knowing that July is coming, while I try to maintain the momentum. If we truly live in a throw-away culture, I should be an icon. I tossed away years (and recycled more of them) and it feels good. There’s more to be done, but this is a start.

And somewhere in Snohomish County, buried under the junk of others, there is a large group of stuffed animals, mostly bears, and I don’t care at all. Have at it, Pixar.

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