There are 27 steps between my garage and my house. I’ve counted them while going up and down those steps at least 32,000 times over the years. Almost every single time I go up the stairs, I have something that I’m bringing into the house. Much less frequently, I’ll carry something out of the house. I’ve lived in my home for 22 years. The math is simple. My house is full of stuff. Which brings me to the topic of this article… clearing out a houseful of crap.

As a Realtor, my job is to usher kind folks through the process of changing where they live. I spend time educating and advising my clients, negotiating to get them the best deal possible, and working to get them to the closing table. And my clients do the hard work of packing and planning and moving and unpacking. It’s not a part of the process that I’m a part of. So, while I understand that it’s a lot of work, it’s been a theoretical understanding… until now. I started getting my house cleared out a couple of weeks ago. I intended to start long before that. The problem was the BASEMENT. Cleaning out a basement, where all of our stuff has been deposited for two decades (and usually without any rhyme or reason), was daunting.

“ …how did I end up with 11 sleeping bags… for four people?!”

One weekend in early January, my daughter came home from school for the weekend. I decided that this would be a great time to finally tackle the basement. My basement is about 900 square feet. At least half of that was badly organized piles of junk. At one point in time, that junk was important. And the piles were organized. But as time goes by, things just get deposited willy nilly, and the things that we thought were important no longer are. Also, I hate to throw things away that may, at one point in the future, become useful or needed. So, an entire day was spent sorting through the remnants of raising two kids, multiple dogs and neglected hobbies. And toys.

What is it about toys that our kids love to play with that makes us think we should hold onto them forever? My mom was the original toy collector. She actually owned a toy store in the ’80s and had very strong opinions about the value of things. I think I could actually see the air quotes when she discussed “collectibles.” Yes, Madame Alexander dolls are special. But do I really want to be the steward of a dozen little blue boxes? And Playmobil. Those were my mom’s favorite. So I inherited boxes and bins of toys that my mom wanted to pass down to the grandchildren. The problem is that the first grandchildren played with them. They took them out of the boxes and dumped them into a giant bin. Now giraffes were mixed up with pirates and dinosaurs and kittens lay next to each other. And so, they didn’t seem really worthy of passing along. Of course I saved a few special items, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve donated two giant bins of those toys.

Camping was one of our favorite family activities when my kids were younger, before they started wanting to be home on the weekends to hang out with their friends. But, truly, how did I end up with 11 sleeping bags… for four people?! Was it in case we had “guest campers?” Did we forget all of the sleeping bags one trip and buy new ones? I literally have no idea how I amassed such a collection. Now a friend has our extra sleeping bags. She works for a unique school where the majority of students receive financial assistance. She takes those kids camping—many of whom have never done so before. So now I’m kind of glad that we had a sleeping bag problem!

And then there were the one-off, random weird things like two extra sets of dishes, a giant bin of very old candles that were half melted, two old dog beds that were leaking stuffing, clothes, shoes, bags and sheets—and two trail cams that never worked along with an old broken drone. Oh, and miles of wires and cables that we might need someday but had no idea what they were for.

As you can imagine, it was a lot of work. A lot of memories. A lot of dust. But at the end of the day, we had a giant trash pile, a giant donation pile and a nice, clean, organized basement. I am resolved to be less sentimental and more rigorous when it comes to adding to my storage collection. But, as my dear friend, Sally, told me, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Wish me luck.