My calf muscles and hamstrings are sore from bending over one too many times. This time I am on my knees and elbows reaching for a hard to reach inflated ball that is wedged right in the middle of the futon width. I let out a string of curses knowing no one can hear me.
It is 5:30 am. I am in the basement of my three-level home. My family is sound asleep upstairs. They are also responsible for this mess I am trying to fix.
Sometime a week ago, the crew who come in to clean my home biweekly messaged me asking if they can resume service. In the nineteen years I have been a functioning adult, I have resisted using cleaning services, hiring them for the rare occasions when we were moving and had to leave our old home in pristine condition for the new renters. We did that three times until late last year, I caved. Between working full time, writing part time, raising a family, cooking most meals from scratch and trying to keep the home clean, something had to give.
Against much resistance, I hired the crew I came to depend on and become friends with. They would show up every two weeks. Two mothers just like me. We would talk about our children. We would talk about writing (her friend is a published writer). We would talk about politics. I enjoyed these little interactions that broke up the monotony of working from home.
Then the corona stuck and the world paused. With it, my once clean home slowly became patches of habitable spaces. The kitchen and the family room got some love because we were in it constantly. The children constantly ferried toys between the upper level and basement. Scraps of paper found its way under bed frames, sofas and boxes. Air drying clay bits were wedged under table tops and all sorts of crevices in the house. Our glass tops first showed finger prints and later indeterminate smudges.
The play area downstairs morphed in the four months from a place where I could take an occasional phone call to a room where I had to carefully put my foot down for fear of being pricked by anonymous sharp objects or finding a spider the size of a coin scuttling away.
My mood changed over the months. First, I put things where should be. Then, I took to reminding my children rather sternly that they should be putting their much-loved toys and accessories where they belonged. Then it became a lame admonition that even I knew carried no weight. Each time I passed a cluttered table or a pile of toys that annoyed me I took it out on the people surrounding me. I became irritable and annoyed without realizing the clutter around me was cluttering my brain.
Each weekend I promised myself that I would start small. The table by my bed, the serving desk that housed our documents, the corner table by the fireplace that existed only because I knew it was there before it was overcome by school artifacts, the other table that had everything from books to pencils to suspicious looking colored mounds.
So, when that text came from the cleaners last week, I finally had a deadline. I started small. I cleared out the tables one day. I cleared the floor of the kids’ rooms another day. I sorted books into piles and boxed them up in big boxes I had acquired from BJs sometime last year. I saved the basement for the last.
It was daunting. I put the music on. I started with the stuffed toys. Then I moved on to plastic toys. Then the hard work began. The itty-bitty Lego accessories. The Shopkins, the Trolls, the Descendants, the Barbies, The Our Generation dolls, the balls – tiny, big, small, squishy, inflatable, bouncy. By the time I was done one half of the room yesterday, my back hurt and I had filled three humungous trash bags.
I called it a day and started early this morning propelled by the thought my crew will be home in a few hours. I bent, I flexed, I crawled, I gave it my all and when I was done, the floor was clear. The futon was loaded with bags, the shelves had the books in them and I could actually see potential in the room.
My crew is here now. When they are out of the home, I will hopefully pay attention to all the bags, clearing, sorting, donating, trashing before they visit us next.
My labor of not-love has a revelation. I promise to myself from this point on never, ever give pencils out on Halloween, random plastic crap as return gifts, erasers, stickers, doll accessories or anything that cannot be trashed or consumed right away.
Books are about the only things of value. Period.