The Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Out My Garage

"THAT'S IT! I'M DOING IT! I CANNOT LIVE LIKE THIS ANYMORE!" I scream at my husband as I shimmy through the narrow path in our garage, old bicycles scraping my legs while board games fall on my head from precariously placed shelves. I've never been to the catacombs in Paris, but when I think of them, I think of my garage: decorative Halloween skulls line the sides of the room, and there's a smell not unlike an underground sewer. "WE ARE HOARDERS!" I continue on, as the poor man stands there, defenseless.

He sees his old bikes and knows he has a problem, but we both know I won't be let off easily since I have saved every scrap of clothing my child has ever worn in her life, knowing full well we are not going to have any more children. "Tomorrow I'm pulling everything out of the garage, and I will not stop until I have organized it all and put it back." I see my husband's eyes narrow in disbelief. This problem has been growing for eight years, since we bought our "starter home" that has now become our forever home. I also know he's calculating how long he will be at work and therefore how long he can avoid my sudden anal retentiveness. "OK," he replies and he walks inside. He's a man of few words.

How we got here I do not know, but what I do know is that I can no longer continue teetering upon boxes and bins hoping they'll hold my weight as I reach for the wrapping paper I need every few months. The embarrassment that comes with opening the garage door whenever the lawn needs to be mowed has gone from somewhat humorous to just plain horrifying. And don't even get me started on this holiday's search for our Elf on the Shelf which resulted in three days of absolute panic as I prepared to ruin my daughter's Christmas by telling her he might not be coming this year. So, one Friday morning I opened the garage door and started angrily dragging things out onto the lawn.

I often see the book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up touted as a miracle worker for people like me and let me tell you... I didn't read it. I've heard it's a good one, but personally, I find myself much more motivated by loud music than books with plans when it comes to cleaning, so I cranked up Check Your Head and started digging. 

One of the first items I found that, in my humble opinion (and it's only my opinion! YOU DO YOU!), deserved to be left on the lawn (but is now resting comfortably in a Little Free Library waiting for its next victim) is everybody's favorite hipster tome, Infinite Jest. It seems like yesterday that my college roommates, after spending a summer falling in love and smoking a lot of weed, took turns reading passages of whatever the plot is to each other.

I remember sticky notes, and foot notes, and love notes; I remember being gifted what I expected to be a life changing experience; I remember reading 300 pages of it and throwing it in a box. I don't remember moving it from place to place for the next 20 years, but apparently I did.

There were happier finds, of course: a picture of my high school boyfriend and me at the prom-- and not just any picture-- a picture on a key chain! We were so young and fresh. Throughout my high school career, I went to four proms (I know... I feel like I should apologize or something), and surprisingly, only one of them is described in the book Prom Nights From HellI kid, of course, but let's just say they weren't all as fun as Key Chain Night where I did my first (and last) keg stand. How often are you held upside down, chugging beer as 50 of your closest friends you'll likely never see again chant your name in encouragement?

It was a night to remember. I barely remember it. Shortly after prom I was interested in attending a theatre workshop at Avila college and had my friend CoPreview (opens in a new window)rrie forge this note so I could attend. Look at that handwriting! Who is believing this was not written by children? We could have used some tips from books such as this because, let's face it, that is just embarrassing. More importantly, why did I need a forged note to attend a college workshop? I need to have a talk with my parents about this one:

Of course I came across some real tear-jerkers as well: my daughter's baby book, my husband's baby book, 25 pounds of cat hair... all found scattered among the piles. I'm a big Madonna fan, so imagine my joy when I found my MADONNA

NESTING DOLLS in the rubble. I've put my husband on notice for tossing them in the garage, even though he claims he didn't do it. I cried when I found a note written by my daughter when she was five years old that said, "A mother is something you are born 'ferum' and it loves you." I cried another time when I found the most amazing poster EVER.

(We don't have License to Drive in our collection, but we do have an even better movie starring the two Coreys: The Lost Boys).

Basically, there were a lot of tears. And laughs. And sweat! And at the end of the night, beers. But, it was worth it. I now have a nice clean garage, my nesting dolls are prominently displayed, and I've given hope to the person who finds their new-to-them copy of Infinite Jest. They know they'll love it. They've heard great things! They absolutely will not toss it into a box only to find it again 20 years later, when their lives are completely different, leaving them to wonder, "How did I ever let my garage get to this point?"

-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.