One of my doctors asked if I have a list of things I’d like to do or see before I pass. To her surprise, I responded immediately: “Yes! I want to clean out my basement!”
I have lived a full life, and I continue to do so now. Every week seems infused with something new and unexpected and interesting that crosses my path, like meeting my long-term voice crush Rick Zolzer, announcer and vice president of the Hudson Valley Renegades! But as I look ahead to my eventual death and work on Project Basement, I find it surreal to survey these decades, one busted-up cardboard box or overstuffed plastic storage bin at a time.
These portals offer gifts of memory: my first job résumé, created on a typewriter; loving, shaky handwritten letters from now-deceased grandparents; three copies of What Color Is Your Parachute?; countless articles to “read later,” such as “How to Prevent Cancer” or “Declutter Your Basement in 10 Easy Steps”; a broken Dora the Explorer indoor bowling game; and a zillion photos spanning my entire life, from seven-year-old me at Fort Ticonderoga with my family, to shots of my own children since pregnancy.
This is not my first basement rodeo. I have hired countless SUNY-New Paltz students for a number of jobs over the years, especially for childcare and house organizing (here’s the hiring link: https://newpaltz.studentemployment.ngwebsolutions.com/Cmx_Content.aspx?cpId=3). But that was then, when I thought I had practically forever to complete Project Basement. Now, I’m racing against the clock, and I am finally making hard choices to get past, “Hmm, not sure, I’d better keep it here under Miscellaneous.”
But I find it impossible to clear out and organize the basement by myself. I am incredibly fortunate to have a team of amazing people who are coming over to sort, schlep and most importantly, help me stay on-task. My husband is involved in this cleanout, too – mostly boring things with countless cables that all look exactly the same, along with disposing of bag after bag at the transfer and recycling station. One friend not only digitized my kids’ artwork, but she also created photobooks of them, which she loves making, and I find overwhelming. I also play copious amounts of the Hamilton Mixtape to keep my groove while refueling with plenty of snacks. The more I accomplish in each three-hour session, the more fired up I am to do more.
The keys for me to see Project Basement through to totality are: getting advice from creative friends when I get stuck about how to handle categories such as the boxes of kid art or the sea of photos; getting consistent help to keep going; and accepting what’s true now, not what was. I kept our craft closet stocked for years, despite my kids’ not having made anything at home for the past few years. Now I have room for office supplies that always used to be hard to find (also snacks).
I feel freer, I breathe easier, and my family expresses real relief knowing that this task is not left for them to do after I go. It’s as easy as ABC!