On Cleaning the Basement, Part 1 of Many

Andy likes to keep stuff. He likes to keep all boxes, no matter how big or how small, plus all the inserts that go into the boxes. (He was not amused when I tried to organize the pile of boxes by breaking down all the boxes and putting all the inserts into one huge box. Who knew it would be so difficult to tell which insert went with which box when you wanted to repack something?) He likes to keep any nail or screw, no matter how rusty or bent, in case he may need it someday. He likes to keep random plastic lids—who knows when you might find the bottle it belongs to? He also has plastic bins. They’re all the same color. They’re neatly stacked. The problem isn’t the bins, it’s what’s in the bins.


Stuff. Random stuff. There’s not one bin for, say, old letters and another one for, say, old school books. Here are some items you might find in a typical bin: half a deck of cards, a book of $.33 stamps, half a (rusty) bottle of shaving cream, 12 wires, a fax modem, a small wooden baseball bat, two Koosh balls, six dead batteries and about $22.75 cents worth of change. And the amazing thing? He knows what every thing is! For example, I’ll hold up a strange plastic piece of something and he’ll say, “Oh, that’s the cover for the electric hair trimmer.” (And by the way, Todd, if you read this, that’s your electric hair trimmer.)

Here’s the real problem: I like to keep stuff too. I keep every thank you note, invitation, Christmas card and postcard friends and family send me. But they’re organized, by date sent, in pretty hat boxes in my closet. I have several plastic bins as well, full of childhood mementos. Their inventory includes my old blanket, a few favorite stuffed dolls, my Girl Scout badges. I find much of what he keeps unnecessary. But I’m sure he can say the same about my stuff, too.

But, we’re thinking about moving. Our Realtor said we didn’t need to do much to our house, except for the basement. “Completely clean it out,” she said. So I’ve been posting things on Craigslist, for way too little, as indicated by the 12 offer e-mails I instantly get back. I have a huge Goodwill pile. I’m trying not to throw much away but some things, well, no one would want them. And we both decided that this cleaning process must also include going through Andy’s bins.

I’ve learned the easiest way for us to do this is to bring, say, four bins upstairs, open two beers and go through them together. Last night, among other things, we found a ticket stub to Armageddon, which we saw on our first date (I was touched he had kept it). There was a letter Matt’s mom wrote to him. And a camera, with film in it, which I can’t wait to develop. I also found a ton of change for my Paris fund. And then there was this:


A paycheck, from when he worked as a waiter at Frisch’s, in 1998! “Do you think I can cash it?” he asked.

“Housework, if it is done right, can kill you.” —John Skow