I'm obsessed with reading organizing books and clearing clutter, so I dived right in when the stay-at-home orders began for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
What could be better than unlimited time to finish the job?
At the same time, I was terror-struck. There are only so many extra containers of shoe polish and Goo Gone to pitch. After a while, I would reach the dreaded "final phase," the painful chapter that every organizing book says to tackle last: purging memorabilia.
Memorabilia is the reason so many basements are brimming. Asking the Marie Kondo question -- "Does this spark joy?" -- only brings guilt.
How could I not love my son's kindergarten sketch of a boa constrictor? (He is now 47.) Or every letter my kids ever wrote to my parents (and they passed on to me)?
So it was with great apprehension that I took the deep dive into the basement cave.
It was not a particularly courageous choice; it just seemed like it might be strangely comforting to go back in time instead of fast-forwarding to a future that was growing more uncertain with every newscast.
I did not expect it to take the turn it did -- both a treasure hunt and a project that would appeal to my inner control freak. With death seeming like the only certainty, I imagined my own.
"The kids," I told myself, "will be so overwhelmed they'll want to dump all my stuff. My mission is to winnow it down so they'll save what I want them to."
The first dive, into my mother's four under-bed chests of family records and photos, admittedly started out as drudgery until I decided to pitch every photograph in which the subject's head was smaller than a dime. Fortunately, most were taken at a distance. It also was not much fun to stuff them in large envelopes labeled according to branches of the family tree. This was in case some budding genealogist might be more interested than I was.
But then, like a reward for the drudge work, came a square of folded waxed paper. Inside was a lock of my mother's hair that my dad had carried with him during World War II.
And after that appeared an unlabeled photo of a mystery woman, oozing with sophistication. "Definitely a close relative," I decided, and found myself keeping it and making up stories about her.
She would have been a good match for my mother's elegant Limoges chocolate set, which I unpacked after more than a decade. She had agonized so often over dropping it that I expected to find a crumbled mess, but instead I discovered a hardly detectable crack, skillfully mended. My mother had her standards, and I reminded myself of that by hanging on to it.
Though my late husband Bob left a ton of news articles he had written, I fell more in love with his lively letter referencing a $3.72 dry-cleaning bill he had paid, apparently for spilling mustard on a colleague's suit. I kept it.
The treasures became poignant when I sorted through papers I had brought home from the hospital after my husband Bill died. Scrawled in pencil on a piece of lined paper was a love note I had never seen before. Definitely a keeper.
My children left behind delights, as well. My older son had designed a machine for catching birds. His brother had penned a flyer for a garage-cleaning business. My daughter, running for office in elementary school, had promised to let students wear pajamas to class. All keepers.
Besides enjoying the finds, I took full advantage of my role as family curator to put the best spin possible on myself. I reduced two bankers boxes of news stories I had written to a small shoebox. I saved only the ones I liked.
Even the keepers were accompanied by an editorial note: "They reflect the time in which they were written," I said in an effort to prevent my daughter's eye rolls over the fact that nearly every successful woman I had interviewed back in the 1960s was described as "pretty" or "petite."
Several days and two giant recycling bins later, the final phase was done.
"I've saved you so much time," I told my kids.
I'm sure they'll keep every scrap.
Balancing Act author Pat Snyder is a northwest Columbus resident and life-balance speaker and coach. Find her at PatSnyderOnline.com.