Saturday, May 26, 2012

Comforting Clutter

A few months ago, our elderly (90-year-old) neighbours had to move suddenly to a nursing home, leaving behind their home of 30+ years. A three-story townhouse with every nook and cranny jam-packed full of life and living. We have been helping their children and grandchildren to clean the house out. It has been a long, arduous, never-ending task. Along the way, we've found some neat little treasures that have since found a home amongst our own clutter and collections. But most of the stuff has sadly been boxed up and taken to various charity stores.

This is the 6th home that we've helped to clean out like this in the past 12 years. First an elderly aunt's, then our family home after Dad died, then the cottage which had been our second home for over 30 years, then Mom's apartment after she died, and then the hardest one of all, Gary's apartment after he died (so much of what we had to sort through at Gary's had already been cleaned out of the house, cottage and Mom's!)

It evokes such sadness in me to see a life's worth of treasured mementos and knick-knacks packed up and carted away, or worse, tossed into the garbage heap. To see an entire lifetime reduced to a few boxes stacked in a corner in our basement and a container of ashes sitting on a dusty shelf.

I know that's the cycle of life. I know it has to be that way. But it still makes me very sad.

We have managed to pick out a few treasured items from each clean-out. I especially cherish anything that my Dad built by hand: handy little side tables, a beautiful old buffet that he built when I was a baby, a small old blue cabinet that Dad and Gary fixed up for Gary's fort at the cottage - it almost ended up in the garbage, but I rescued it and insisted that hubby fix it, which he did, and it's now is a much-prized treasure in our entryway.

Our house is overflowing with stuff, but each piece is a precious reminder of the hands that touched it and the lives that enjoyed it through so many years. I picked out each piece precisely because it has memories attached to it, and I couldn't bear to toss away anything that in any way kept a loved one closer.

They're only old things to a stranger, but to me, they're so much more than mere clutter. To me, they bring an inexplicable comfort to my heart; just to pass them in the hallway, or to touch them with my hand now and then somehow brings them back to life - it's as if I can feel the presence and hear the echoes of all of my loved ones who built, used and touched these things throughout so many years of our lives together.

Comforting clutter. Someday, somebody will be cleaning out my home, and will wonder at the motley collection of old junk. They will probably be in a hurry to get the job done and will toss these things into boxes and garbage heaps, not lingering on the "why" of their presence in my home, or aware of the memories and comfort they brought to me over the years since each loved one's passing.

It's okay...these "things" will have served us all well in the time and space that was theirs to serve and it will be time for them to move on or be disposed of.

But for me, here and now, I need and cherish each and every memory of each and every piece of my comforting clutter.

Everytime I pass by this blue cabinet, it whispers "Gary was here"


  1. Things can be a reminder of times and people no longer in our lives. To strangers, they may have no meaning, and even to other family members they may mean nothing. I have so many things in my home, too, that have sentimental value. Most of it is worthless to anyone else, but to me, these treasures are priceless. I enjoy them while I have them, knowing that I have no control over what happens to them after I am gone.

  2. Sort of like a detached attachment. I've tried complete detachment from material things and it doesn't work for me at all. Nor does neurotic obsessive attachment - I've been at that extreme and it was too stressful worrying about things breaking or being stolen. I like being free to, like you, enjoy these things while I'm here, yet being detached enough to not worry what happens to them after I'm gone.