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Another layer of cleaning out

I’m trying to clean out a bit. My house feels cluttered and it’s a good winter project. As I age, it feels good to not leave all this for my kids to deal with when I die. My house is small, so even though I may not have as much stuff as others with larger homes, it still feels like too much.

We all go through different iterations of cleaned out from time to time. The last time I did this, I had read about something called Death Cleaning. There seemed to be an element of guilt and fear in it, to prevent my children from having to go through all this when I die. It said we’ll have no difficult decisions at the end, and our things will not get into the wrong hands. That’s when I destroyed all my old journals.

Anyway, it feels different this go-around. It feels more like cleaning out to have less clutter, less dust, more spaciousness for me now. But as I go through each area, I’m finding it more and more difficult to part with my things.

I go to my bookshelf and see all these books that were so much a part of me at one time or another in my life — health books, poetry, classic fiction, family books, books on writing, the deserts, education, ballet and opera. How to eliminate an area, a whole slice of me?

And then there’s the clothing — opera dresses and fancy boots and river clothes, and just so many memories. I won’t wear most of these things again, but I hate giving them away. There’s something comforting knowing they’re there.

I feel some gratitude that I even have things to clean out, with so many people not even having homes. It’s been a communion of sorts, with beloved items that support my life and enliven me.

Visiting a friend recently I was taken by how neat and tidy everything was. “Where’s all your stuff?” I asked. Magazine piles? Current books you’re reading? Teacups? It did feel relaxing there though, no clutter.

I was once in a house where there was nothing extra at all — only white walls, white floors, a couch, a table and some plants. Very Zen, extremely peaceful, calm and tranquil. At another time, I was in a house owned by a hoarder — piles of way too much everywhere. This made me feel crazy. I’d like to think I’m somewhere in between.

I have probably about 10 to 15 years left if I’m lucky. Shouldn’t we be able to have the things we love around us? Things that make us feel welcomed, warm, like reflections, or extensions of ourselves? Items that both bring back memories and give us new ideas for what’s next? Serenity and well-being? Things that make a house a home?

Two of my brothers and I went through my Dad’s house when he died. It was really quite beautiful, a closure of sorts. We reminisced, talked about our memories of this and that, and all felt so close and loving. It was like a tribute, an honoring of him. Shouldn’t we leave some tasks for our kids to do? Tasks that represent all the parts of us, but perhaps not the nitty-gritty parts of us?

I’m feeling I just want to be at peace when I die. I want to have no regrets, have finished all the endeavors that are still before me, and have my closest people feel a warmth and joy in their hearts that I lived. But for now I want more ease and simplicity around me.

Martha McClellan has lived in Durango since 1993 and has been an educator, consultant and writer. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.