A house, as Dave Barry once cogently remarked, is a square hole in the ground, into which you pour money. Well, after all – it is the place that you live in, and which has all your stuff in it. How much one counts on that sort of thing – well, my parents were reminded of that, when their retirement house burned to the ground in 2003, in one of the catastrophic brush fires that Southern California is so famous for. My parents, having a liking for living away out in the country and preferably at the end of at least half a mile of dirt road, were accustomed to the risk and indeed, the possibility. Still, it was a wrench when the house went up in flames. They had half an hour to get out some of the most valuable stuff, but not many other things; Mom’s wedding dress, the family heirloom christening dress, a huge box of photographs that my daughter had intended to sort out, all of Mom and Dad’s books, the motley assortment of Christmas ornaments – to include the Christmas stockings that my grandmother had knitted in wool, with all our names worked into the top – all of the Danish Christmas plates from the AAFES catalog that I had sent Mom over the time I was stationed overseas – the letters that my uncle had written to his family during WWII. All gone – as Mom said, “They burned up real good.” Everything – and I still think about the things lost in the fire, although some of them I did not miss. The Danish Moderne teakwood dining table and chairs, for example – the chairs hit the back of your knee like a karate chop. (Mom bought them for cheap in the early Sixties, and it turned out they were valued at much, much more than what she had paid originally. In that particular case, I’d have rather had the insurance money.)
Whenever the house seems to get too crowded, the bookshelves crammed and overflowing with books and trinkets, and I think about how nice it would be not to have so many things, and to move into a tiny little cottage in the Hill Country … then I remember Mom and Dad and all the precious, accustomed bits and pieces that they had to let go of, all on a Sunday afternoon in the space of an hour.
I could probably do with less – not with fewer books, though. The constant moving at the pleasure of the Air Force did help us by whittling down the extraneous things every three or four years. But I have been in this house now since 1994, and the stuff has been creeping out of the closets and corners – so perhaps it is time for a belated New Years resolution, to sit down and sort out the storages spaces in the house, and purge the things for which we have no present or foreseeable use. The den closet, I am pretty certain, is home to some boxes from the last move which I threw in there when I got tired of unpacking them.
We had to get a new washing machine this weekend, which necessitated a good clean-out of the closet where the washer and dryer (and a few other small and relatively little-used appliances) live. Result – A much cleaner closet and a trash can filled with useless stuff – pillows stained beyond all hope of cleaning, a box of the disposable plastic receptacles for the long-gone automatic litter box – which never really worked properly and some other bits and bobs which we steeled ourselves to throw away. It got easier as we got down to the bottom of the cupboard.
So, my daughter and I have gotten ambitious; the pantry cupboard is next. It’s one of those with deep shelves, spaced too far apart, with the result that stuff gets lost in the back and forgotten forever. The plan is to rip out all the wooden shelves and their supports, repair the walls, and put in closely-spaced shallow wire shelves along all three walls, so that it will be easy to see what all we have in there – no need to go in with a rope and a headlamp next time I am looking for a can of tomato sauce.