I moved into my home on Sunnybrook Drive in 1989, over thirty years ago. I purchased it for one sole purpose to give my daughter a stable and secure environment. I bought a four-bedroom, two and one-half bath dwelling for myself and my daughter, who visited me every other weekend. Overkill, you ask? I’m am a person who gets confused in chaos, and in my home, I had more than enough space to have a place for everything and to put everything in its place.
In 1993 I married Julie, and we decided that we would start our married life together in my house. This made the most sense as she was busy getting her Ph.D., and my house was move-in ready. Julie brought to the marriage the contents of her old apartment, including a few boxes of things that we had no use for but were too “good” to throw out. These boxes served as the nidus of growth in the hidden part of our home, known as the crawlspace.
You enter the crawlspace from our basement, climbing into it from the furnace/utility room. It is a large, hollow area situated directly below the family room. The floor of the crawlspace is a hunk of very rough concrete and the short height of the room forces exploration on your hands and knees. This uncomfortable experience is made worse by looming joists and ventilation ducts that seem to be pleasured when you bang your head on their hard surfaces. The crawlspace tends to be more humid than the rest of the basement. Dark, dank, and dusty; its only redeeming value is that it is hidden from view.
Over time boxes entered the crawl space, and once in, they never left. Our family grew from three to six, and with each child, there were clothes to save, and toys to box. Both Julie and I stored full sets of old heavy outdated luggage. I had a complete set of china that found a home there when our wedding dishes replaced it. Boxes of school notes, old textbooks, VHS tapes, and personal journals were tossed there. An end table, an electric “wonder oven,” a deconstructed shelving unit, kids Halloween costumes, broken tools, and an endless sea of Christmas decorations.
The Christmas decorations deserve special mention. For many years I would buy Julie a special Christmassy gift at Christmas. Porceline villages, giant snow globes, fancy nativity sets, and more. I also had a habit of purchasing super tacky animated Christmas novelties to surprise the kids. There was the talking Chrismas tree, the Jazzy Santa, and the dancing snowman, to name a few. All of these items found their way to the crawl space keeping company with boxes of ornaments, wreaths, lights, and our bulky fake Christmas tree. Julie didn’t like or display my Christmassy surprises, which achieved permanent residency in the crawl space. The kids did enjoy the Christmas novelties, but their poor construction combined with the damp crawl space warranted their quick deaths. Once in the crawl space, they joined other useless items creating our very own island of misfit toys. After thirty years, the island was bursting at its metaphorical seams.
My coping strategy was simple; I pretended that the crawl space didn’t exist. However, every time I replaced the furnace’s filter, I had to confront this delusion. I would glance at the area and quickly turn away, ashamed. However, even a glance would force a feeling of urgency in me that I needed to do something, anything, about the mess. I countered that urgency with the reality that I didn’t have the time to tackle such a project. I was working two jobs while trying to be a good husband and parent. That was what I could do.
In 2019 I retired; I no longer had two jobs. In 2019 our youngest child entered college; our kids were grown. It was time to deal with the crawl space.
Julie had no interest in being a co-cleaner, and I can’t say that I blamed her. The thought of spending countless hours crawling on hands and knees was not my jam either. I knew that I needed to approach the problem differently. Those boxes, bags, and loose items had been squatting in the crawl space for years; they didn’t need immediate eviction.
I developed a simple and nearly painless strategy. Three times a week, I would go down into the crawl space, and each time I would remove one item. That item could be a garbage bag of loose things, a storage box, or a single larger item. Each session would last (at most) 10 minutes, and once I completed my goal, I made a conscious effort to pat myself on the back. This also meant that I only had three additional items to take out in the trash every week, making Julie, the sanitation worker, and me happy.
I started this process several months ago, and I have been faithful in its execution. Initially, it seemed like I was making no progress, then the chaos of my actions made the space look worse. I knew that this would be the case, and I pushed forward. Now, several months later, I still have a way to go, but I can see progress. I hope that I will regain crawl space order in the first quarter of 2020. With that reality, there is also the awareness that the empty spaces could serve as a magnet for future clutter. I will need to be vigilant to continue to keep the crawl space clutter-free.
Life can be like my crawl space, chaotic, and full of unwanted things. Full of habits that no longer serve a purpose, but you can’t seem to discard. Packed with relationships that hamper you and hold you back instead of propelling you forward. When life is full of such clutter, there is no room for progress as all energy is used to maintain the status quo.
When humans face severe problems, most want rapid and easy solutions. We buy silly potions that promise miracle results or go on radical exercise programs that are abandoned as enthusiastically as when they were initiated. We quit unrewarding jobs without a back-up plan. We run from one relationship to another, seeking someone to make us feel complete only to find that we take ourselves with us.
Most significant problems are not solved quickly or easily. It can be overwhelming to contemplate making a change when dealing with a substantial issue. However, it is often possible to make small changes in a dedicated and consistent fashion. Initially, it may seem like your efforts have no impact, then things may even seem a bit worse, but eventually, you will see the fruit of your labor. Just as in my crawl space, it is essential to remain ever vigilant to not fall back.
Accept responsibility and approach change with a discerning eye. Your best life is ahead.