02/09/2013 06:57 am ET Updated Apr 11, 2013

Cleaning Out As I Enter A New Decade

It began with the gathering of essentials for victims of Hurricane Sandy. My husband and I started going through the linen closet and going through all of our warm coats. We packed up SO much to give to victims of Sandy and we STILL had more than we need! Coats, blankets, bed spreads, pillows, hats, more hats, scarves, more scarves, coats and more coats. We all wear the same two hats and scarves and coats. Why do I think I need 18 scarves and 22 hats and so many coats? This is the detritus of a 38-year marriage in the same apartment all those 38 years.

Because of my 70th birthday being around the corner -- a new decade -- I decided to continue this purge and to go after my desk, the rest of the closets, and then under the beds. Our bedrooms, Steve's den, the kitchen, every closet, every drawer. Amazing places I had stuffed things over the years and what I had stuffed in these hideouts from superficial gazes. This apartment always is tidy but unbeknownst to anyone, including me, it was a melange of surprises.

We found photo albums, 28 of them, behind the sofa and most had disintegrated. We gathered the best photos and threw the albums away. Now I needed to cull the photos even more. This project wandering thru memories took us four days. Then there were the wedding announcements, funeral cards, silver trays, tea sets, ivory dessert forks (Who gave me those?) bowls, dishes, glasses, wine glasses -- some to give to Renny and his soon-to-be bride as they start their new life together, some to sell on eBay, some silver now positioned on the dining table where it finally gets appreciated. Ah, BlackBerry cords, plugs that no longer work, paint cans that were empty under the sink, clothes that no longer fit, candles down to their nick, napkins with spots that won't come out, exercise equipment we never used. Old lipsticks. Necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, which I never put on, I sent to my great-niece as well as little Shakespeare books since her mother teaches Shakespeare.

Some of the things we found were far harder to get rid of as it spoke to our no longer being as young. Without realizing it we had stopped some athletic ventures, we were brought face-to-face with it when we came across gear we used all the time when we were younger and had slowly stopped using...skiis, hockey gear, camping gear, tents, kerosene lamps. Yes, we had skied every weekend and camped out on mountains -- high ones at nearly 20,000 feet, but that was a long time ago. Running shoes out...walking shoes stay. Keep tennis rackets, but give away paddle tennis ones and squash ones. It was so hard for my husband to throw out his sports gear and equally hard for me to part with my beautiful dresses that no longer fit my shape or age.

Then there was the basement...30 years of memorabilia from Guiding Light and movies I was in. Scripts, photos, and then the t-shirts I auctioned for charity. Did I mention I found Lillian Raines (my soap opera character I had played for 26 years till Guiding Light went off the air) under my bed? Well, not her, but her wardrobe...back to the basement. At the very least TWELVE lampshades, SIX dehumidifiers, all the Christmas ornaments and ribbons and lights and wreaths -- six HUGE boxes as I love Christmas. I sent the 20 Santas to my great niece and lots of ornaments to my son and his wife to be for their tree as they had one ornament on it! I kept all the rest (did I mention I LOVE Christmas?).

We found suitcases from the days of valets and before wheels (on suitcases -- not the invention of the wheel). 8mm films, a screen, a projector, many old cameras and binoculars. And 60 records...33s. Surprises constantly, photos of our parents, long gone, and of beloved aunts and uncles also long gone. Kept these of course.

Then the book cases and there are many in a house like ours where reading it so much part of our lives...Novels are going to new homes, art books going to artist friends, books on the National Parks heading for the NPCA, history books have found homes with history buffs, all the travel books went out and all the travel albums stayed put. I then found 16 versions of the book I'm working on and tons of writing which I haven't gone through...the many novels, poems, short stories one starts but doesn't continue. I look forward to seeing if anything there is worth using.

We might have glanced or worn or used some of these things again...maybe -- but now they are passed on to someone who can use them...and maybe they'll get passed on again...and again.

My son, Renny's, Marine uniforms, Harvard rowing clothes, baseball cards, and footballs, drawings he did at age of 3, 4, and 5, his baby clothes. (I kept those -- ever the anticipating grandmother. His life story in photos I have given to him. And his books he has chosen to keep or give away as he sees fit. Paintings and presents and picture frames are all colliding somewhere else now and not here. Here is CLEAN.

There are treasures...the Bimini glasses. Will Renny take them or will I sell them? A civil war gun from Steve's family now in the hands of an antique dealer. Steve's wild cowboy riding raincoat...someone will love it, but who? A new connection through Facebook -- letters and memorabilia from my father's childhood in Niles, Michigan already on its way to someone still living there whose granddad might have known mine. The letters from the prison inmate who wrote to me for quite a while before his escape was foiled. (Needless to say I knew nothing about the very dramatic escape attempt till I heard about it on the radio. I think he went to solitary after that attempt.) I didn't know I'd kept the letters. Edgar Lee Masters New Spoon River Anthology -- First Edition signed as there was a wonderful poem in it about my blind great uncle."Eyes that see not, and yet see" I am learning all along the way. Learning what I can sell or not sell...values have changed. No brown furniture. I know what silver is worth. What gold is worth. How to use eBay.

I am weeding out. If I haven't seen it in 12 years it means I haven't missed it in 12 years. No matter how nostalgic -- I get rid of it! My husband sees me coming and I know he wants to avoid the task, to find anything else to do but remove things but now he is enjoying going through his youth again!

Medicine cabinets full of expired meds, soaps that have disintegrated, toothbrushes beyond their day. Six hairbrushes -- why six? My desk was full of old stationary, out of date cameras, a Walkman, bows for my hair from when I was 20, pens with no ink. I tried out every pen in the apartment and threw out those that no longer worked. So now when I take a message, I don't have to go through four pens to find one that has ink. They all work in every room.

All of this took four weeks and if you don't look inside things, you'd never know that we had done anything. What has been hidden ways under beds, in the drawers, and on top of the closet would still be hidden away and you would never know as the outside was's the inside where we hide things.

Why do we hold on to it? Why did we put it into the drawer? Why did we keep it?

I may do a return sweep and get rid of more, but for today...

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