“Be brutal, you’ve got to be brutal.”
That was the hub’s and my mantra as I disappeared into our garage for the cleaning I’d threatened for years. We agreed, we would not be soft and keep every little thing just because it held fond memories or for whatever reason we keep things. We would be brutal.
Seventeen years ago, movers unloaded the bins holding much of our lives — things we’d carried with us through five states and now the Oregon Coast. And I swear, all these years later, some of it is there still waiting to be unpacked. We have a three-car garage and I haven’t seen the bare walls of one bay since we arrived. Instead, storage bins sit stacked four and five deep. Some from the original move; some from when we added on to the house and moved various bits and pieces into the garage. Just temporarily, I said. Ten years later, I was still looking for things that had disappeared.
So last weekend off I went into the garage determined to jettison everything we didn’t absolutely need or love. I also had hopes of finding a few things that had gone missing. One was a set of photos taken 15 or so years ago with my family at a restaurant back east. It was one of the last gatherings in which my father still had a reasonable quality of life. After dinner, my sister, my nieces and I posed in our chairs mimicking a shot we’d lined up for in the ‘80s. Those pictures had disappeared, and the garage was my last hope.
The first bin I opened was all the hub’s stuff. “Hey,” I called. “You’ve got to go through this yourself. I have no idea what you need or don’t”
“OK,” he called back from the yard where he was doing something no doubt important. “Set it aside, I’ll take a look.”
I opened the next bin. It was loaded with photos — most, dupes of shots already in photo albums. Still, soon I found myself loading them into the basket designated for the very few things I couldn’t part with. And soon, the basket was overflowing. Brutal, I reminded myself. I dumped them in the garbage and kept sorting. An hour into the endeavor, I was down to the last packs of photos. And there they were, the family gathering.
After that, I grew braver. I opened the bin containing countless clips from the Rocky Mountain News and The Oregonian, along with magazine clips filed neatly in three ring binders. I started to flip through them. ‘Oh, I can’t part with this one,’ I found myself thinking repeatedly as I came face to face with the old tales. Then I paused, took a breath and into recycling bin they went. So did the stacks of greeting cards, the odd mementos and cheap memorabilia, first aid splints and braces, a splintered childhood jewelry box, boxes of VCR tapes. When I came to the collection of rejection slips that started with my first rejection in 1976, my resolve weakened. Gulp. Did I really want to do that? I did.
Soon, I reached the bin marked “bad poetry and early clips.” Who on ´arth keeps poetry already acknowledged as “bad.” Did I think it was going to improve with age?
What I didn’t toss, I put in the pile for the upcoming garage sale: CDs, the rock polisher (used once), vintage cookware, flannel sheets (as any woman of a certain age will tell you, flannel sheets are their own fuzzy hell), a beer stein from Munich, glass bottles. I was brutal — but only as long as I kept moving.
Digging into the hub’s ski bin, I pulled out a pair of thermal long johns, “No way, you can wear these anymore,” I said.
“Sure I can,” he said. “I have a pair I wear all the time during storm season.”
“And you don’t need to two ski helmets,” I said, putting the long johns back in the bin.
“I do. One is for cold weather; one is for spring skiing.”
I picked up a dusty box of tool bits.
“Don’t touch those,” he said. “I use them all the time.”
I called it a day four hours after I’d started. By then I’d emptied 12 bins, and promised myself I’d return the next weekend to tackle at least a dozen more.
Meanwhile, the hub’s box sits where I left it, awaiting his efforts to be (ahem) brutal.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.