Cleaning Out

Jennifer Savage essays

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A few weeks ago we cleaned out our garage—something we never had time to do when we moved from the farmhouse to Missoula four years ago. We carried two giant loads to the dump and one to Goodwill. We downsized, yes, but we touched almost everything we owned that day and there were times I was wiping tears from my eyes.

I’ve moved a lot in my 38 years. I changed schools six times and had five different addresses before I graduated from high school—Can Do Court, Isaquenna Trail, Club Ridge Drive, one I can’t remember, Honeybee Trail. I’ve lost count of how many times I moved in my twenties. Sometimes it was across town, sometimes across the country but there were some years there where I didn’t stay put for very long in one spot. Then, I got into a two-year pattern. Two years in Asheville, two years in Eugene. Two years, I thought, in Missoula. Instead we bought the farmhouse and lived in it for eight years before moving to Missoula proper for —you guess it— two years. Then back to the farmhouse for two years. Now, back to Missoula.

If I could get back all the energy I’ve spent packing boxes and sorting stuff I might have been able to climb an impressive spire somewhere instead I’ve stacked and loaded boxes some of which never get unpacked from one move to the next.

In our giant purge a few weeks ago, I cracked open those boxes and stared at my stuff in a different way. We’re moving into 282 square feet. We don’t have room for anything extra because we really don’t have room for the essentials. Something in this equation allowed me to dig beneath the surface and get rid of more than just a bag of maternity clothes and the old coffee maker we thought we might be able to fix.

We were ruthless in our paring down and because of it we made some tender discoveries. The outfit Eliza wore home from the birth center, a crumpled lei my friend Bobbie’s mom made for our graduation from grad school, a picture of my brother, sister and me from 1998. Lucille carried the picture around for days thinking she was the little girl in the photo.  “That’s me, mama, and that’s you but who is the boy?” she asked.

“That’s my brother when he was a little boy,” I said. “And that’s actually Sarah, my sister.”

Lucille just stared at me a little in shock.

“Yeah baby, you do look like her,” I said.

I found high school journals (holy hell) and black and white photos from our first summer, our first days, really, on the farm and I thought how Seth and I looked like children. I found Seth’s fly tying box and remembered our first winter in Montana on Rock Creek when we had nothing but time.

We kept pictures, preschool drawings and things made of clay that our five-year-old had handcrafted. We got rid of the rest. Our garage is a boxed, labeled, cleared out shell of its former packed-to-the-gills self. And we were left feeling lighter, more connected to what we own. I haven’t missed anything we got rid of that day because with every box of junk that went into the dumpster we were closer, somehow, to what really mattered.

About the Author

Jennifer Savage

Jennifer Savage is a writer and mama of Eliza and Lucille. Lately, she's learning to be a farm girl, again. She writes from her home at the base of the Mission Mountains in Arlee, Montana. She is also one of Mamalode's favorite writers and you can fall in love with her too at .

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