January 28th, 2015

De-cluttering by Disaster: January 28th, 2015

A few years ago, my parents had a disaster of epic proportions. They had journeyed out to the wild, wild west to visit their son, and they left their house behind.  My sister happily came and checked on the house each day and made sure that the basement hadn’t flooded.

This was important, because it had rained a lot.  In fact, we’d had a giant storm.  Their basement was clear.

What you need to understand about my parents’ home is that it is rather enormous and elderly (built in 1893).  It was built back in the time of “here, let’s use the bits from that barn that fell down” and “90 degrees?  Just eyeball it!” and don’t forget “railings for stairs should reach to just below your knees!”  The west side of the house faces a row of assorted (huge) trees.  It is the east side of the house where my sister would enter each day.

Apparently, when my parents had had the roof replaced, the builders took a different approach to construction-related activities.  Like wee robots, they clambered over the roof, eschewing sheathing, nail-gunning the shingles to the evenly spaced roof trusses.*  Now I want you to imagine the sound of a record needle scratching and re-playing this bit: the evenly spaced SCREECH evenly spaced SCREECH eveeeenlllly.

Eye-balling is not necessarily even.  Nor is “let’s just add a few feet on this end and wall in the sunroom” or “guess we should move this bit – hand me that piece from the neighbour’s leftover timber.”

So, roof robots were evenly nailing shingles into…nothing much.

Big storm comes along and rips off a giant chunk of the roof.

Rain came pouring in and sought its own level: the basement…from the attic.

And then, while my parents were awaiting the repairs (and living in a closed-off portion of the house) another storm came along and ripped off more of their roof, resulting in about 90% of their house being ruined.  Nightmare x 1 million.

As this blog is all about me, you’ll no doubt be wondering what all this has to do with me.  Well, I, like most adult children, was happy enough to leave my parents’ home with many, many boxes of crap and other important things stuffed into their attic.

The attic, in this home, was also built according to the aforementioned stringent building codes.  I kid you not, there was not a floor in the attic.  Why would you need a floor, silly?  It’s not like you’re walking around up in there!  It’s a home for bats and spiders and mice.  They don’t even like floors.  And getting up to the attic involves pulling down a hatchway on the ceiling and unfolding the clever set of stairs which creak and sway as you climb up, directly over the stairs leading to the main level.

What I’m trying to explain here is that the attic is not exactly a place one spends an afternoon.  Or longer than long enough to shove something up there and then beat a hasty retreat down the screechy, wobbly stairs.  However, when everything is a water-logged, sodden mess, venture up you must.

This is not the kind of de-cluttering you want to do.  Trust me on this one.  Luckily for my parents, their three daughters all live within drive-to-their-house-open-door-deposit-stuff-and-run distance.  Mom has a key to my house.  It became a not-infrequent experience to arrive home to a new pile of stuff in my mudroom.

My general solution to this was to carry the boxes down to the storage room in our basement and cram it in there.  Hooray.

Of course, when we had our own flood (the more traditional kind – from the ground up) many of those boxes were sitting on the floor in the basement.

They’re twice-disastered boxes.  NOT that our itty-bitty flood compared to my parents’ flood in any way (thank goodness).

And so, decades after I put them into the attic, years after they were poured on, and many months (over a year) since they were flooded, I’m finally pawing through the boxes and making hard decisions about stuff.

It’s amazing how many emotions junk can drag up.  I keep finding letters to and from people I don’t even know any more.  I found the first letter I received from my then-boyfriend when I was an exchange student in Uruguay. Since the mail system was not exactly efficient there, it had taken 5 weeks for me to get any mail from home, and so I got 18 pieces of mail all on the same day.  3 were from him.  It’s a good thing I’m so obsessive about reading things in the right order.  Otherwise I would have not been able to enjoy the first letter, knowing he would unceremoniously dump me and break my heart into a million little pieces** in the third.  But I digress from the other emotionally charged item I found:

Mi amigo

Mi amigo

This little book (it’s about 2″ by 3″) was my talisman, my spy decoder ring, my lifeline.  I was living with a family who spoke zero English, and I spoke about 4 words of Spanish (“mas despacio, por favor” was what they had taught us to say – “slower, please” – if we didn’t understand.  It was only later that I learned to say “no entiendo” – I don’t understand, and “lo siento mucho, soy Canadiense” – I’m sorry, I’m Canadian).  There was no google translate or hand-held electronic translation device.  This tiny book went everywhere with me.

But it has sat in a box for years now.  I have no need of it any more, and it doesn’t even fit on a shelf nicely.  A picture of it, and a story, is enough.

And to finish on a happier note, here is a picture of the front cover of the day planner produced by the Student Union at NSCAD for the school year 1995/96***:

Reference may be lost on the young 'uns who haven't been immersed in tabloid culture.  I miss you, National Enquirer.

Reference may be lost on the young ‘uns who haven’t been immersed in tabloid culture. I miss you, Weekly World News!

Day 89 Scorecard: 445 down, 1,380 to go

* I think that’s what they’re called, just stay with me on this, m’kay – the boards that are triangles that hold up the roof, okay?

** I totally stole that phrase, and I’m unapologetic.

*** It did not cost $32.85.

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