Thus began an e-mail I wrote to my daughter at college last Friday following the deluge that left 26 inches of water in our basement.
Accidents, disasters, and near brushes tend to occur in threes, in my exerience - and the last one is usually the doozy. Recent events have been true to form: an earthquake, a hurricane, and a big honking rainstorm, with only the last one causing us any damage.
Really, we were lucky in all three cases. The only damage that caused me any grief was the soaking of my daughter’s documents and coursework from the various Russian courses and programs she has participated in. Over seven years of hard work, fun, and memories, all crammed into a plastic box with a lid that unfortunately did not stay put after being dumped into the water.
I spent the next few days, with few breaks, freezing the Ukrainian book and a spiral notebook, drying out other bound items, and lightly drying and xeroxing all of the loose sheets of paper - notes, tests, articles, and so forth. More than a ream of paper went into the effort. I dutifully tromped back and forth between the copier and the laundry room, as we were also washing and drying out soaked clothes and stuffed dolls and animals.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice finds wet papers...
and more wet papers...
and still more wet papers
The episode both interrupted and expedited our campaign to clean house and get rid of all the stuff we don’t need.
I suppose my two-day drying and copying marathon was motivated by a good measure of sentiment - these materials represent a major investment of effort by my daughter as well as an important part of her life - but it was also based on more practical considerations, because many of the items are still useful for reference. Heck, I was even able to engage in a little bit of grammar and vocabulary review as I copied some of the more advanced materials.
But the rescue operation probably also washed away any excess sentimentality as far as the contents of our basement were concerned. Exhaustion will do that.
We also realized that the less stuff we keep in the basement, the more latitude we will have to arrange the remaining items to make them less vulnerable to natural disasters. The benchmark was set: life’s work + memories = important; other bits = not.
A much improved basement
So throwing stuff out or giving it away became a positive pleasure.
Expeditious and felicitous disposal of items felt like triumphs: lightly used arts and craft sets found a home with our church’s Sunday school program; extra (now very clean) litterboxes will go to our petsitter, who actively supports stray rescue and pet adoption programs; and soaked potting soil now enriches an underperforming garden bed.
We are the rulers of recycling, the sovereigns of salvage, the masters of the makeover and make-do.
Meanwhile, after some conferring with both daughters, the truly beloved objects of their childhood stay: a kit of plastic medical instruments inside a Little Tykes pet carrier, two toy xylophones that still make music, and the awesomest collection of tiny little people and animals (Playmobil, Polly Pockets, and Pound Pets).
I did feel pangs when the girls’ impressive collection of plastic food and the last child-sized chair went out the door. On the other hand, the sight of the luggage my husband and I bought for our honeymoon in Scotland that is now leaning against the trash can out front inspires memories but not regret.
This process is not free of uncertainty and trepidation. What if I wake up in the middle of the night and realize that it was a mistake to give away my younger daughter’s go-go boots?
The circle of things that should come within sentiment’s protective and possessive embrace should not be so small that scant evidence remains of the lives we live, nor should it be so large that the items have no meaning. Determining the proper balance is not easy, but having a flood wash away a lot of flotsam and jetsam helps.