Decluttering Your Life, Letting Go

The DumpsterVerse

I was recently cleaning out my garage and came across a folder containing pieces that my daughter had written for her seventh grade writing portfolio. I took a quick break to thumb through them and came upon this poem:

The Dumpster

I’ll always remember the day

I wanted to play

In the dumpster all day.

But my mom said, “No way!

You cannot play

In the dumpster all day.

“There could be glass

And ruined things;

Old toys and broken earrings.”

Now you know about the day

I wanted to play

In the dumpster all day.

I read the teacher’s comments: “I like your image of ‘broken earrings and ruined things.’ Remember to address as many of the five senses as you can. What drew you to the dumpster, anyway? Just curious!”

I think back to some years earlier.

It’s November of 2006, and Dad has gotten a dumpster. It is all the gossip in the family. Everyone wants to talk about it, but they are just a little bit afraid to mention it, as if once they say it, the dumpster will vanish, and the dream will be over, unfulfilled like so many dumpster dreams of our childhood. We’re milling about in a room filled with strangers, but no one’s talking to anyone else.

“Did he really get it?”

“Is he throwing stuff away?”

“What’s Mom saying?”

“Is it big?”

“I can’t believe he finally got it.”

Whisperings are flying around, like they would for the woman who threatens for years to leave her husband, and one day, she just up and does it.

“I can’t believe he did it.”

“I mean, he’s been talking about it for months.”

“Is he getting rid of anything?”

Of course, they’re all asking me. I’ve been filling my siblings in daily about the latest adventures in the dumpster. I’ve been telling the tales of old sinks and toilets being thrown away, relaying anecdotes of old rusty metal ghosts of their former selves being tossed over the thick imprisoning sides, landing with a clanging thud, and then watching Dad go into the dumpster to reorganize the garbage so as to maximize the space inside. We’ve been having lots of laughs – long overdue, giddy laughs.

The day it arrived, Roman and Alea jumped up and down like I had just told them Christmas would be a month early this year.

“Can we play in it?” they asked. I hesitated. They stared up at me, pleading with their eyes. I looked at the empty vessel and thought about it. Did I really want my children playing in the dumpster? No. Yet, who could understand better than I the excitement of finally having a place to throw all this crap? What began as the seed of an idea from my childhood had finally grown into the full splendor of this massive, rectangular box of steel that offered relief at last from all of the mounds of garbage that had tripped me, scraped me, cut me, and banged into so many little arms, legs and toes throughout the years. There it finally was, materialized in all of its beige-colored glory, and it just beckoned, even to me, “Come inside and play.”

I caved. “Okay, you two, but only while it’s empty, and only for a few minutes. I don’t…” They were off before I could finish my speech about not going in when there was garbage due to the glass and metal and whatnot that would be dangerous.  As I watched them, I felt a pang inside, as if maybe it was just a little bit trashy to let my kids play in a dumpster, but I passed it over quickly, focusing instead on the job ahead, the filling of the container.

Mostly, my job is to do the tedious work, taking nails out of old picture frames to remove the glass, presumably so my dad can leave it outside until it gets broken and waits around in the driveway for the next dumpster, which will be sometime during the 2040’s at the rate we’re going. But I also get to cut up wood. It surprises me to realize that I made it all the way to 32 without ever learning to use a chainsaw. That’s right, 32. All afternoon, I cut up pieces of wood from an old dresser I had busted up on Saturday. There I stood, sledgehammer in hand, smacking the life out of an old dresser like a modern day I-am-woman-hear-me-roar lumberjack. As I moved into cutting up the pieces with an electric chainsaw, something caught my eye. There in his doorway stood Mr. Reuben, our six foot five, 70-something year-old Jamaican neighbor with kind eyes and an extraordinary amount of patience.

Mr. Reuben spends most of his summer and fall chopping wood. His backyard of about an acre deep is covered about halfway with stacks of cut wood, neatly arranged into piles, ready to be cut, sold or burned in his home, whose chimney boasts a steady stream of smoke throughout the entire winter. Cigarette in mouth, he stared down at me steadily. I waved and smiled up at him, much like I do when I am outside heaving shovelfuls of snow in my driveway, alongside him in his. He gave me the same look he always did when I was shoveling, the one that said, “Don’t you have four grown brothers?” But he never made mention of them. Today he just called down from his doorway, asking if we were going to burn the wood. I nodded. He nodded.

He stared down at me for a minute, and I suddenly felt inadequate. I wished for a dangling cigarette of my own and maybe a Carhart jacket. My brown furry clogs made my feet feel lonesome for work boots. I knew I did not measure up to the scrutiny of the rugged woodsman next door, standing there in his canvas work pants and quilted flannel shirt. I desperately wanted his approval. Then he turned back around and went inside. I went back to my chainsaw, vowing to look more the part next time.

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