My grandmother was a meticulous homemaker.
She was a skilled cook who was particularly adept at entertaining. She had an amazing garden out back, where she grew most of the produce she and my grandfather ate during the warm weather months. Her roses in the front yard often won neighborhood garden club awards.
But what I remember most about the home that she and my grandfather shared for almost 50 years was how clean it was. There was no real clutter. Sure, there were pictures of their kids and grandkids and knickknacks from their trips abroad. There was a quilt that laid neatly folded on top of the sofa in the den, the stacks of photo albums that lined the room’s built-in bookshelves. Everything had a place. There was no dust, no dog hair (no dog), no crumbs or leaves hiding along the baseboards.
There are times I strive to be like her. If I can leave the house every morning with all the beds made, the dishes done and the laundry put away, I feel that I’ve made some sense of calm in the chaos of my life that occurs when you live in a very small house with three rowdy kids, a husband and two large dogs. I do wonder, when my mother and uncles were young, if perhaps my grandparents’ home was more messy, more chaotic - more like my own home now. I guess I’ll never know.
But I’ve realized that I’m perhaps more like her than not. You see, while her house was spotless and seemingly organized, there was a dark secret lurking above: My grandmother was an attic hoarder. It was only after my grandfather’s death when my grandmother sold the family home that nearly five decades of clutter was pulled down from the rafters. There were evenings gowns, a mink, even a kimono stored in hanging closet bags. Boxes of drawings, old children’s books, even my uncle’s fifth-grade science project, still stored in the attic. There was a decaying toy chest, filled with 1950s metal trucks and construction vehicles, and all of my grandfather’s old cameras, still stored in their original boxes with their user manuals. And there were knitting supplies - bags and bags of yarn and knitting patterns, just waiting to be used.
By the time we pulled down everything from the attic before the move, the contents filled the living room, den and the screened porch outside.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of that attic, recently, when I pulled down the access door to my own attic. I was putting the Christmas decorations in the attic when an empty cooler and a folded up sleeping bag fell down along with it. Luckily, I dodged out of the way in time.
There’s a reason why my husband will no longer climb the steps into our attic - because it’s so cluttered it gives him claustrophobia. There’s our suitcases and holiday decorations, old children’s clothes boxed away for consignment, our disassembled crib wrapped in plastic deep in the dark depths of the attic space. But just as we unpacked my grandparents’ attic a few years ago, many of those items seemingly found a home in my own space: The old wooden and metal sled that I used with my grandfather, that I couldn’t quite give up. Some of the 1960s evening gowns that my grandmother had stored in her attic are now stowed in my own. My uncles’ old deteriorating dart board, which I loved playing with as a kid, now is tucked somewhere up in the rafters. I doubt we’ll ever use it, but I just can’t get rid of it, either.
Or maybe I will. It’s the time of year for New Year’s resolutions, and for my sake - and my husband’s sanity - my resolution is to de-clutter. There’s plenty of spaces to start.
But I think I’ll start small. This weekend, it’s our utility closet, then perhaps a few junk drawers. I’ll make it to the attic ... hopefully before next Christmas.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.