All summer, every time I went into the garage to get out the lawn mower or a wheelbarrow or camping equipment, I would look around at piles of junk and say, "Some day we have to clean this." I was bothered not so much by the aesthetics of having a garage that looked like a junk yard kept by a crazy person, since it's very easy to just shut the door on it, but more by the fact that is a real pain to have to climb over old furniture and car tires and cardboard boxes in order to get at the box of grass seed or the garden hose or those bicycle helmets.
Since most of our furniture comes from garage sales or thrift stores in the first place, it is usually not worth being donated anywhere by the time we get done with it. And our garbage collector won't pick up anything that doesn't fit into a 30-gallon trash bag. So what do we do with old stuff that is useless? A guitar case from the seventies that has completely fallen apart at the seams and has been replaced by a new hard one. Two twin beds, with mattresses, that were permanently damaged during the days before my little boys had the hang of staying dry at night. An old vacuum cleaner that got burned out too many times, possibly from people trying to vacuum up stuff way too big. A lawn mower that I abandoned after it caught on fire. An old chair that no longer has legs. What we do is just toss the item in the garage and forget about it.
And when I say "toss," I mean that literally. In really cold weather, when icy air comes blasting into the house, I have been known to open the door, throw an item, and then slam the door shut again. Out of sight, out of mind.
After seven years of living in this house, our garage was filled with useless stuff. Every once in a while, I would say to my husband, "We ought to clean the garage." I had this image of a happy family project in which we would all pitch in and work together to sort through all the crap. My husband would nod and agree, although he was more realistic about just what kind of happy family togetherness the plan would involve. But then a sunny Saturday would come, and we'd back out of the plan. It just never seems right to waste beautiful weather on a project like cleaning the garage.
Then in October, I went away with my friends for a weekend. Almost always when I come back from a weekend away, my husband will leave a note on the kitchen table, often with some kind of surprise gift – flowers in a vase, tofutti in the freezer, a new piece of silky lingerie, a dark chocolate bar on my pillow. This time his note said simply: "I was thinking of you this weekend. Look at the garage."
I opened the door and could barely believe my eyes. The garage was almost completely empty.
My husband and sons had worked on it all weekend. They'd sorted through the stuff we needed to keep, and piled that on the shelves in the back of the garage. They'd bagged up the dozens of bottles and cans, several years worth, that had escaped from the containers that once held them. They'd burned the cardboard boxes that we always just toss into the garage. The biggest thing, though, is that they'd rented a trunk and taken most of the stuff to the Rescue Mission and to the dump.
So for the first time since we've lived here, the garage is empty. Well, not exactly empty, since we did keep the lawn mower, the snow shovels, the bicycles, and the camping equipment. But it looks clean now, with an open space in the middle that is actually usable space. Every time I go into the garage, which is several time a day since that's where the firewood is stacked, I look around and feel grateful.
When it comes to romantic gifts, a clean garage is higher on my list than a dozen red roses.