Thoughts: Attics

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I spent the bulk of yesterday emptying my attic.

When I bought the house, ten years ago the attic was full. Boxes and boxes of who knows what, left from who knows how many generations of people who lived there before me. Yesterday, at last, I packed all that stuff into my old Isuzu Trooper and the long old trailer my father made twice and made the run to the dump.

Don’t ask me what was in all the boxes. I have no idea. I didn’t look. It was their lives, not mine. The people who lived here before me were not the sort to have a hidden Picasso in the attic. Whatever was up there, it was stuff not important enough to live with, but important enough to stash up and out of sight. They liked knowing it was there. But not enough to move it when they left the house. An odd dichotomy of what is important and what is not.

Most of what I put up there belongs to the kids. Stuff they say they want. Stuff that for now is important enough to them that it doesn’t get let go, but that they have no room for. For now, I can content to store it.

Even before they moved up here, I was the repository for their stuff. Their mother would go on periodic cleanses and tell them “All this (Fill in the blank, Barbies, transformers, toys of your choice.) must go. I’d get a teary call and would find myself driving to Virginia to fill the back of the Trooper with the precious things, whatever they were, and bring them here, safe and stored away.

When they each moved up here, there was a comfort for them in knowing nothing had been tossed. Their things were safe. It was part of them being safe, knowing if I would take care of their toys and books and dolls, surely I would never discard them.  The deal was I’d keep the stuff till they had room, or somewhere down the road they decided the things no longer had value.

I don’t think they have any idea just how much stuff they have. I know I didn’t. It was scattered in nooks and crannies of my old miner’s house. In closets and on shelves and under beds.  Now that I have the stuff that has sat up in the attic for ages out, and I have begun to move the kids stuff up, I realize it is a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff.  It will take the bulk of April to get it all up there and in the end, it will become insulation for a couple of rooms of the house, and there will still be half the attic available for more stuff.

And the stuff is coming.

This happens to every couple who marry for a second time, somewhere in mid-life. Already, both of you have things, things that matter, furniture you love, things full of memories. Important things. And something has to give. The woman I love had not planned to keep much of anything from her previous life. Her ex and her daughter lived in their old home and she wanted them to have the things that kept life normal. Tragically though, her ex died in the fall. Her daughter is looking to move. My love will be letting the house go. And there’s stuff. There’s always stuff.

So we are looking, over the summer, in moving the things that have value to my love up here. Some of my furniture will go to the attic. Some, the things with flat surfaces, will go to the studio till the kids want it. And the stuff in closets is getting moved to the attic so my love will have new closets and things for her stuff.

I am not much of a packrat myself. I tend to let stuff go when it no longer has value to the life I am in. Most of what I have kept is for the kids, somewhere down the road. But as we have begun to carve out room for more things coming in, I have come to realize that some of what I have has value, and yet, I cannot always explain why.

That bothers me. If it has value, that value should be easier to explain. But perhaps things of the heart are not that clear. What I do know is this – of all the stuff in the attic, the only stuff that is mine is the bins of  Christmas stuff. The things that have value for me are downstairs where I live. And it’s enough.

Here’s the beauty of the new things coming in. This house, which was once indelibly mine, is slowly, piece by piece, change by change, becoming ours. We don’t have the lifetime of starting young, making our way, raising children together that couples who stay together have. We have lived and lost and begun to rebuild – both our lives and our space. For me, it was twelve years. For her far less.

But still, there were separate lives to merge, and as we begin this summer to move things from Massachusetts to Vermont, this place will become, thing by thing, memory by memory, less mine, more ours.

It’s a big change for both of us. She was married 20 years. I was married 25. In the past couple of years all our kids have left and created lives of their own. We are still sorting out our new roles in life. Long distance parents. Newlyweds. New partners with each other. Building a life and a house and a home that expresses us, not me or her.  In her case, moving to a new town and a new state. New work.

Having our things, the things that are important, helps lend stability and a sense of place to life. We need that. And the stuff in the attic? Well, I hope it matters to the kids that I keep it. But if it doesn’t, in time they will come to that realization themselves and the stuff can go. On their terms, when their hearts can deal with it.

Because that’s why we have attics. To keep stuff we don’t need, but aren’t ready to let go of.  We keep it for others, or for ourselves. It doesn’t matter, as long as we can make room in our lives, in the downstairs of life, for the new.

Today I move around the kids’ stuff that is in the attic and consolidate it.  I finally take the Christmas stuff up. And I begin to move some of their things from downstairs to upstairs.

There’s room enough for everything. After removing two truck and trailer loads to the dump. The first trip of many.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS – The picture is not my attic. Mine is nowhere near as photogenic

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