Even though the groundhog told us that we are facing six more weeks of winter, before long it will be time for spring chores—washing windows, putting away winter clothes, preparing gardens.

Considering spring cleaning in the middle of winter made me think about the other kind of cleaning, the kind of cleaning that looks at the accumulation of “stuff” from a lifetime of living.

Our move to Colorado forced the boxing up of many years of writing, of photography, and of other creative efforts that I just couldn’t, at that time, discard or destroy. Each of these creative activities left a legacy—boxes of photos, boxes of writing, boxes of family gifts and souvenirs, boxes of estate sale finds that seemed like treasures at the time.

Sensible people, faced with a major move like ours would most likely have dealt with the problem at that point, and left the debris behind for a new start in a new place. I’m a slow learner though and now that we are settled into our new home, I’m faced with these boxes greedily eating up space we don’t have.

A phrase from a country song, “Her future got lost in her past,”  keeps pinging in my mind as I consider my own personal “other kind of cleaning.” Each item I’ve salvaged from the mountain of boxes reminds me of a special day, a special person or place, a special event. But unless I spend my time photographing each item and writing down the memory that goes with it, when I’m gone, it will simply be one of those “interesting” things that Mom got who knows where, an item that requires my children to decide what should happen to it. While these memories are important to me, my son and daughter are out there in the world experiencing their own moments and making their own memories. They really don’t need to be weighed down with mine. And why do I want to hold onto these mementos of the past anyhow. There are future adventures, future memories that should be my focus. Otherwise my future gets lost in my past.

A few years ago, a family friend lost her home in a fire. When I next saw her, I said, “Oh, how awful, to lose all that family history, all of your early writing.” She laughed an odd laugh and after a moment said hesitantly as if revealing something shameful, “It’s actually a relief.”

So just how much of my past do I need to salvage for my family? There is a part of me that wants to load my children and their children down with all of the wonderful thoughts and experiences I’ve had. I want them to look with amazement at the pottery replica of the “Dancing Dogs of Colima” from my trip to Mexico. I want them to see the wooden plaque from Wales and experience what I felt when I received it.

Totally impossible, of course.

It finally occurred to me that part of this instinct to keep all of these boxes and boxes of stuff is to impress upon my children the fact that I lived. But maybe I live in their memories of the times we’ve shared, the conversations we’ve had, the places we’ve gone together. Maybe those are what I should be concerned with rather than boxes of stuff.

So a major “other kind of cleaning” job is somewhere in my future. It will be good to remember other times and other places as I go through the writing files and the boxes of photos. It will be hard to let go of the forgotten treasures that will no doubt surface. But better me using the shredder or traipsing to the dumpster than forcing that task onto my son or my daughter. They don’t need the guilt from dumping Mom’s “stuff.” By the time they reach my age, they’ll have their own boxes and crates of “stuff” to deal with.

One thing I will keep—the box of family gifts, travel souvenirs and estate sale treasures that brought on this epiphany and led to this post. That box will stay in the closet so that I can from time to time revisit special moments. But it will also carry a large sign attached to the lid that says,

“I had a wonderful time accumulating these. Keep what you want.
Dump or donate the rest with my total approval and blessing.
Love, Mom.”

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