We've done this drill before. In 2008 when we went to Ecuador for four months we rented our home and had to empty drawers and cabinets, scrub the toilet and vacuum years of dust from our lampshades and fan blades so that our tenants didn't feel like they were moving into a junk drawer. My wife R and I were hissing at each other like a couple of alley cats over whether a box should be labelled pantry stuff or non-perishables. It's completely logical that a half-empty jar of Sockarooni pasta sauce left in an otherwise spotless refrigerator should become grounds for divorce when a relationship is under that kind of stress. For this year-long overland trip to South America that we are about to undertake, we also have renters for our home. It's a testimonial to R's and my growth as human beings that when given this second chance to clean and straighten our house and discard and store our crap, we have not renewed our retainers with Dewey, Screwum & Howe.
We started this emptying the house process months ago and even though we have been working diligently at it while binge watching episodes of "The Walking Dead" and "Orange is the New Black" we still have loads of boxes to pack and haul to storage and rolls of bags to fill and bring to goodwill so the sorters can peek inside, move some things around, and then toss the whole thing in the dumpster. So even though you would think we would have this place stripped down to the studs by now, we've run into two problems.
The first problem is that we have six more years worth of stuff since the last time we did something like this. Two rubber balls have produced 85 offspring off all colors, sizes, and degrees of bounce. We have enough pencils to make a tree and if we had any engineering skills could probably build a Transformer out of the number of barrettes, random plastic things, and matchbox cars we've found. Plus, the kids are older and don't think it is "fun" anymore to help Mommy and Poppy clean hair out of the sink drain like they did when they were young and cute. The message they're sending from behind their screens is clear - this was your idea so pay the piper.
The other problem is that we have a family moving into the house that plans to make it their home for the year. Even though they are graciously allowing us to leave most of our furniture, we have to remove all of our personal items. I haven't actually asked them this, but have a gut feeling they don't want to find my copy of the Internal Revenue Code displayed in the middle of the bookshelf when they move in on August 1st. Since we are still living here but don't want to be packing boxes up until the minute our tenants’ movers ring the doorbell with their stuff, our pre-vacate the premises packing requires us to anticipate what we might need (fourteen decks of cards) as compared to what we just can't do without (toothbrushes). All the things we might need, we have moved to storage. But even the stuff that we have managed to clear out of the house keeps managing to find its way back. My daughter Coconut has asked for the typewriter, her letter writing box, and our DVD collection. My son Rooster has retrieved his football card collection and World Cup soccer sticker book, and shortly after we surreptitiously discarded his rock collection, made himself a nice new gem pile with "precious stones" he found in the alley which are currently neatly laid out on a towel on his bedroom floor.
R wanders around the house with her iPhone randomly taking photos of things to get rid of on Craigslist so the kids and I run for cover when she approaches to avoid being photoed and posted as “free”. She recently sold her dresser and has what's left of her wardrobe - three shirts, a clown suit, and some undergarments - piled in a suitcase on the floor. We have to bake cookies so the kids giddily dance around the kitchen while we haul to the car goodwill bags filled with things they haven't used for years but are sure to desperately need if they see them.
In going through my own things and deciding what I will be happy to see again when I unpack it next year against what I'll never remember I even had, I realized that but for the fact that R can often be found at my side, I must cut a pretty pathetic figure. Looking with a critical eye as I was going through my clothes drawer, I realized that most items were faded, frayed, torn, and dated from the days before Bill Clinton ran for a second term. The other day while sitting in a meeting at work I saw I had a hole in my sock that matched up perfectly with the hole in my sneaker. I could see the top of my big toe. In anticipation of leaving this place for a year, I've become neglectful of simple things like noticing as I try to squeeze every last use and value out of things without any plan to replace them. My bike tires are so worn I can see the tubes but I don't want to spend 100 bucks for new ones because that's money that will be hanging from the roof of my father-in-law's shed for the next year.
The other night when I was tucking Coconut into bed she said that she wanted to wash her sheets. Ordinarily this would lighten my heart for how responsible she's become to pick up a chore that R and I have neglected. Instead, I felt like she shouldn't bother because she’s only going to be sleeping on them a couple more days and the time to wash them and put them back on the bed can be better spent doing other things. Rather than tell her this, however, I bit my tongue, kissed her forehead and told her that was a good idea. Then I left the room and turned out the light; just like we're going to do on this life in a few days - clean sheets and all.