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4:00 a.m. It is raining. The rain from Dorian.  It may be coming in the basement and may be wetting the two boxes on the bottom of the cardboard box pile that I should have put on a pallet.  Oh, the basement is a mess.  It is an unruly pile.  I tell myself, no pile is too big or too messy once I dig in.

I joined a Facebook declutter group a few years ago that doesn’t get much traffic these days, but every so often someone, usually new, pitifully asks for help with the big, impossible pile of junk somewhere—attic, basement, room with a door that can be closed, dining room table that is never used for food, etc.  And the answer is always, grab one garbage bag and fill it with whatever is garbage.  Take it out of your house.  Don’t look at the stuff that needs boxing or selling or putting away.  Just do one garbage bag today.

One garbage bag is a practice.  

When it was time to reclaim my Madison house as mine and the basement was full of boxes, some of which were moved twice without opening, and it all seemed impossible to sort and decide what to do with what, I was overwhelmed.  In desperation, I made a three box/thing rule.  I promised myself that every day I would go downstairs and get three things or boxes out of the house.  Anything that could be put in the garbage or driven to St. Vinnie’s qualified.  Everything easy qualified.  I had a sorting corollary to the rule: if it could be sorted into an identifiable pile, it counted.  So, the box with two two law text books and miscellaneous papers counted as a box gotten rid of with the books going into the book pile, the papers going into a paper pile and the box collapsed and put into recycling.  When a box or pile looked overwhelming, I put it aside for another day.  I worked around the edges of piles.  Sometimes I had to search for those easy boxes and there were a surprising number of them.  Boxes created in the haste of moving.  I put garbage bags full of sorted old clothes, linens, toys, extra kitchen stuff into the trunk of my car and did not worry when they would make it to St. Vinnie’s.  Much later, I had two garage sales and when I couldn’t stand the idea of another, I offered stuff to friends and strangers.  Best story of offering was my old tv screen which I decided not to take with me out east.  It was 11 years old and bent forward a bit from falling off a shelf. Julia wanted something bigger, I wanted a smart tv and I didn’t want to find a box to pack something that was not getting much use.  I carried it out to the curb hoping someone might take it and a couple walked by and asked if it still worked.  It did and it was gone.

But that was way down into, almost at the bottom of, a metaphor of a pile.  

After just one week of three boxes/things a day out of the house, I had 21 boxes/things gone and I saw change. I needed the physical experience—to feel the holes in hands and feet to believe. And even though part of me held onto the belief that the ‘better person’ would have dug straight away into the box chock full of deeply sentimental unnecessaries, the imperfect me took on the tiny tasks first.  And then, one day, I did dig into the deeply sentimental unnecessaries.  

And that’s where I am today, surveying a ungainly pile of tasks and ideas, everything from finding therapists and a dentist to worrying about the rain ruining two cardboard boxes on the basement floor to what kind of light bulb to get for more light in the living room to Julia’s future to deep satisfying friendships for me to my deep desire and ambivalence to pick up the novel again to how to hang my big pictures. And the only practice here that makes sense at four in the morning when eyes pop open to add three more things to the list of tasks is to work around the edges, do something every day, grabs just one garbage bag and fill it.

And I am sure this is a sacred practice because I have to keep learning and relearning it.

Pictures from Sunday’s kayaking on the Charles River.  It was a gloriously beautiful almost fall day.  There was a park not too far from us with kayak rental and a festival, but with no available parking.  Two crowded parking lots and lots of cars circling, and off a busy street with no side streets.  I circled once, which seemed to take forever, and then gave up.  It was that kind of day–not really up for challenges.  We went back to the quieter park we had been to last week, down a dirt path with just enough parking and got onto the water waiting for a deep sigh.