Decluttering and Unexpected Emotions


I wasn't prepared for the emotions I unboxed

I had just completed cleaning out my basement. It was a huge task and it felt great to put the labels on the last few airtight bins that I now needed to store. These bins contained a wooden train set that I had purchased years ago when my boys were little. Needless to say, at that time I was at my height of overshopping and the train pieces still remained unused and unplayed with in their mint condition boxes.


I decided I would save the trains for my kids to have when they began families of their own, but since that wouldn’t be any time soon, I would store them in an “out of the way” location. My husband reminded me of a small storage space we had that I had completely forgotten about.


When I opened the door to this space I saw three large boxes in there. What was it? Uggh! More stuff to go through…I thought I was done!!


I had my son pull the boxes out for me and I sat down ready to sort through them. My thought was if I didn’t know they even existed I could just donate or discard everything.


But I was wrong.


The first box I opened contained framed pictures from my mother’s house. I must have tucked the box back there after she passed and we emptied and sold her house. Looking at her old pictures stirred feelings in me I had not expected. As I held each frame I could recall the familiar spot in my childhood home where each picture resided. I thought about the moments the images captured…times long, long ago when life seemed simpler and safe and everyone I loved and depended on were still alive.


Pictures of my grandmother lounging in our backyard as I played in a toddler pool. Pictures of a young version of my mother with her beehive jet black hairdo all dolled-up in a red jumpsuit. I had forgotten how beautiful she was, and doubt my kids would recognize her as “grandma donuts” in this picture. I paused to wonder at faded pictures of relatives who I did not know. And with my heart aching, I embraced the photo of little me being squeezed tightly and lovingly by my Dad.

The second box contained my father’s old photo equipment from the 1960’s. He loved snapping polaroids and filming vacations and family parties, and I could envision him setting up all the equipment in our living room to play the home movies he had taken.


The third box contained my father’s album collection…Frank Sinatra, Broadway hits, Perry Cuomo, and so many more. As I quickly cleaned off each cardboard cover, I could hear my dad singing along to Bing Crosby on a Saturday afternoon. All the songs that played in the background of my childhood were now abandoned in a layer of dust inside this old cardboard box. I don’t own a “record player”, but I longed to once again hear the songs that my dad loved so much.


My father died when I was only 21 years old..such a critical time in my life as I entered adulthood with my whole world shaken. How I suppressed my grief back then…throwing myself into work..never really allowing myself the time to sort through my troubled emotions. Forward I marched back then…but now 33 years later, I sat there on my basement tiles frozen in emotions which could no longer be denied. I missed my Dad. I missed my Mom. I missed being young with a whole full life ahead of me.


And so I wept.


It all came flowing out of me and I cried for the loss of them, the loss of my grandparents, my uncles, my nephew, and for the loss of my own youth.


When I finished crying, I decided I could not “deal” with those boxes right now. I didn’t know what to do with them. Did I just donate it all? What about the pictures? I was so confused and just couldn’t seem to think straight, so I went back upstairs to the PRESENT.


The fireplace was lit and my youngest son was building one of his lego sets while my husband napped on the couch. The house was quiet, but comforting. I made a cup of tea and just sat thinking for a while.


Yes, I still grieve for my parents and seeing the pictures, and old items certainly brought me back in time. And yes, life does moves quickly. I needed to allow myself the moment to reflect and enjoy my memories even if I didn’t like all the feelings they stirred up. I needed to dust off my own emotions and set them free!


The sun rose again the next day….life moves forward. I felt a bit sadder, and then a bit happier, but certainly a lot lighter. I made the decision that I did NOT need to make a decision on the three boxes right away.


I went back down to the basement, but this time I brought my son and my husband’s aunt with me. Together we finished cleaning off the frames, albums, and photo equipment placing them in new airtight, dust protecting storage bins.

My son was amazed at the camera equipment and enjoyed hearing a few stories about each one. My aunt was thrilled beyond belief to encounter a multitude of Frank Sinatra albums that she herself did not own. She excitedly pleaded with me to set a date for her to visit again soon, promising to bring her record player and a bottle of wine so we could play the old tunes. Seeing both their joy as we cleaned and repacked everything seemed to ease all my melancholy feelings. We took the past and enjoyed it in the present.


As for the picture frames, I knew I could let go of the ones that contained people I did not recognize, but for the rest I have decided to find a place that will scan and convert them all to digital.


The basement decluttering is now complete and I am ready to move forward. Perhaps, I will tackle cleaning out my kitchen cabinets next! Who knows what emotions I may find lingering in an old hidden teapot?

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