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Benefits from Cleaning the Attic

“I need something from the attic,” my wife said to me the other morning as I was beginning my assault on the day’s crowded to-do list. “Could you pull down the ladder for me?”


Dutiful husband that I am, I complied, asking as I did so, “What do you need?”

“Oh, just a few things for my classroom. You do remember that we’re starting school soon,” she replied, as though she had not been reminding me of that fact all summer. Since the last day of the previous year, in fact. (You can take the teacher from the classroom, but you can’t get the classroom out of the teacher!)

Having pulled down the ladder, I returned to my work. An hour or so later, I suddenly missed my wife. I climbed the steps of the attic ladder to check on her.

“What’s taking you so long?”

“Oh, I just decided that while I’m up here I might as well clean up a bit. Here,” she said, sliding two boxes across the attic floor toward me. “You can help by shredding these old cancelled checks.”

I started to protest, but then I looked at the date on one check that was seeking to escape the box and its fate. Nineteen hundred ninety-one. (How long do the experts suggest one should keep old checks? Five years?)

What I at first thought might take an hour or so ended up taking most the rest of the day. I accomplished nothing on my packed to-do list.


As much as I hate throwing stuff away (not true garbage, like empty soup cans, mind you, but really valuable things, like books, especially books), I found that shredding those checks and cleaning up the attic offered some side benefits. One was the discovery of where all our money had gone in nearly three decades. (I should have bought stock in Walmart, and we surely ate a lot of pizza when the kids were growing up. I also now know how I built my library to the enrichment of Borders, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, McKay’s Used Books, and half a dozen other booksellers. And we won’t even think about how much I put into my model railroad layouts during those years!)


But tucked among the cancelled checks were other gems that sparked a flood of memories. Two of our daughters’ savings passbooks. (They were obviously learning well and applying lessons about working and developing a saving habit.) Closing papers on the purchase of our first house. A pediatrician’s bill. (And to think that we complained about the cost of health care back then!) A fading photo the realtor had taken of his sign in front of our first house when he listed it for sale before we moved to the South. Three of our girls and two of their playmates were crowded around the sign. (One of those playmates I recognized, but who was that other kid? Did she just decide to photo-bomb the shot? That term wasn’t used back then, but people somehow made it into other people’s photos anyway.)


Perhaps the memories conjured by those items had something to do with how long it took me to shred all those checks and other “stuff.” Or maybe it was the stack of old newspapers, all allegedly “of historical significance,” that my wife brought down from the attic while I was shredding.

“Go through these,” she said in her most teacher-like voice. “You don’t need to keep all of them.”

I flipped through the stack, glancing at the headlines. I witnessed history before my very eyes.

SOVIET UNION DECLARED DEAD

SNOWBOUND! (about a paralyzing storm that had hit East Tennessee in mid-March one year)

E. GERMANY CRACKS OPEN THE WALL

PRESIDENT CLINTON IMPEACHED

BUSH: GET OUT BY HIGH NOON (prelude to Operation Desert Storm)

BUSH, GORE IN NAIL-BITER (2000 presidential election)

NATIONAL TRAGEDY (9-11 terrorist attacks)

And then there was the 28-page special edition celebrating the national football championship won by the Tennessee Vols. How could I consign that historic document to the trash pile?!

I grimaced, sighed, and sadly threw the remaining two-thirds of the papers into the trash bag, including (not without great pain) the front page that exulted in UT’s come-from-behind, 35-34 win over Notre Dame.

Now my wife sees a cleaner, less-cluttered attic. The ceiling joists sigh with relief. And I see a plethora of possible writing ideas and memories. Maybe I did accomplish something that day after all. It just wasn’t on my to-do list.

Are you looking for writing ideas? Have you considered cleaning out your attic lately?

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