We were on a cleaning kick, spurred by a summer unexpectedly off-track. Canceling our trip to Thailand with just one week to go left us with an awkward, three-week hole in the middle of our summer. We handled it in different ways. For my son, it was three weeks to spend with his nose in a book, having just been introduced to Ray Bradbury and Mark Twain both. For Mike, three weeks to catch back up with his cycling, which had to be set aside for a while due to throwing his back out earlier this year. For me, three weeks to try to catch my breath, start talking to someone, and make some health changes.
We did not fill the weeks with plans.
My daughter, the social butterfly, did not see the three weeks as a gift. I encouraged her to clean her room so she could have friends over, a motivational tactic that almost always works like a charm. And I gave her a box and told her to put any outgrown toys in there for delivery to charity.
Five boxes and two garbage sacks later, I caught on to the fact that my daughter was at a crossroads during this summer of thirteen. And she was ready to take a more grown-up path. And no matter how I resisted admitting it, as I painted two coats of "Apple Creek" aqua blue over the pink and white daisies that I painted on the nursery walls of a certain precious baby, it was time. My heart had more cracks in it than the old plaster walls, by the time we hung the hot-pink sparkly sheers and plumped the turquoise chevron throw pillows.
She keeps exclaiming how nice it looks and how much larger the room feels. It really is amazing how much good it does the spirit when a room is brightened and freshened.
I told her it's a lesson she'll never forget, and practice for the day when she's putting together her own place and trying to make wise decisions about space and light and movement. How she loved that. I love that her eyes light up at the thought of being a wife and mom, of the little oasis of calm and love she'll build for her family. I love that she thinks I have done that for ours. Someday all too soon she'll begin to see where I've failed at that mission, but today is not that day, and I hear her humming happily as she puts just the very best pictures, posters and trinkets back into their places.
Her zealous purging is infectious. Her brother contributes outgrown clothes and asks for some new, non-Star Wars bedding and curtains. It doesn't hurt so much when he does that, because we've already been through the removal of the Thomas the Tank Engine theme from that bedroom. And when your child towers over you, you accept the inevitable a little more with every gangly hug. It still hurts a mother's heart, but it's such a slow ripping-off of the band-aid.
Mike begins to clear out his books and sell them on Amazon (if you're looking for obscure historical tomes only a history professor could love, you know now where to find them). The stacks by our computer area grow and shrink on a daily basis and he gets his steps in by walking to the post office. And I add odd kitchen things, outdated decorations and unused clothes to every box I tape shut to be carried out to the car, from thence to a charity shop and hopefully into hands that will make better use of them than we have.
It is catching, and it feels good. But I hang on to more than I give away. And as my hands open closets and drawers and my eyes scan the contents, time and time again I happen upon things I have saved for a house I'll never have.
Vinyl verses for the walls in a different house, with an actual dining room. A shower curtain and towels for the downstairs bathroom that never was. Picture frames, wall organizers, a huge cork board for the office of my dreams. Antiques and vintage linens for a home large enough for steamer trunks and pie safes and cedar chests. A second Christmas tree with no where to be put up.
The dishes alone, that I have saved for some glorious future china cabinet and fancy sit-down dinners, take up so much space in my kitchen that there isn't room for the everyday utensils. I have never actually used the tureens, the platters, the pasta bowls, but I bought them for a house that doesn't exist.
Oh, someday it might. But for right now, they are all silent reminders of ingratitude, discontent, and money that should have been spent elsewhere. We have tried to put our money where our priorities are: Christian education, college funds, family trips, world travel, sacrificial giving to our two favorite charities, and missions through our local church.
I thought I was a cheerful giver, but my little unopened, unused treasures stashed in every closet, drawer and tote give away the fact that I long for a mansion not over the hilltop in heaven, but right here on earth where moth and rust corrupt.
My life NOW, cluttered with things I've hoarded for the future. Things that take up space both physically and emotionally, out of place in a life that should be lived lightly and purposefully. Suddenly I feel the weight of all these things I have gathered to myself, hoarding them for a life we do not live, in a house we do not own.
And it's time. Like my daughter, over-ready to leave childish things behind, I am suddenly ready, too.