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This must be the place: Searchin’ through the fragments of my dream-shattered sleep

Last Thursday evening, I sat in my recliner, in my one-bedroom apartment in downtown Waynesville, and gazed over at the overflowing pile of old clothes and junk slowly sliding out of the nearby closet like some Southern Appalachian landslide after a heavy rainfall. 

For a minimalist like myself, and one who resides in a purposely humble abode, I was somewhat shocked by how much, well, shit I’ve accumulated over my eight years living and working in Western North Carolina. 

Normally, before all of this current shelter-in-place, I’m constantly on the road: on assignment during the weekdays, for pleasure during the weekends. So, I’m never sitting in the apartment and taking notice of what’s there, and how the space is changing while I’m off wandering and pondering.

But, with the recent coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders, I’ve found myself stuck in the space and taking a personal inventory of what I’m surrounding myself with, and if those things are actually worth holding onto. 

I keep a simple wardrobe, with my only real possessions being several shelves of books and vinyl records beyond basic furniture and kitchen appliances. Thus, how did all this clutter wind up in the endless depths of my closet that goes underneath the second story stairwell in my apartment building? 

Getting up from the recliner, I walked over and stood in front of the closet. Right off the bat, I knew this cleanup task wouldn’t take one night. Hell, it might take up an entire weekend. If I was going to rip apart this closet and all of its items, I had to take the opportunity and do the same to the rest of the apartment: living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. 

By Friday afternoon, I grabbed the industrial-sized office vacuum out of the storage closet across the hall from our newsroom. Then, after purchasing a box of 30-gallon trash bags, I headed back to the apartment, ready and willing to finally accept the fact that this wouldn’t be an easy endeavor for a person who never finds the time to thoroughly clean his home.

Starting with the closet, I pulled out all of the old clothes. It was several college hoodies and sweaters, dozens of T-shirts from road races and bands that don’t exist anymore, windbreakers and golf shirts, winter jackets and sport coats. Two new piles on my living room floor soon appeared, subconsciously labeled “keep” and “throw out.” 

Halfway through tearing apart the closet, I realized I’d only shifted the massive chest-high pile from one side of the room to another. It was time to start filling those 30-gallon bags and placing some on the curb for the trash pickup. For each pound of physical junk tossed, I felt about 20 pounds lighter emotionally. Wild how that works, eh?

Once the clothes got sorted out, I started opening boxes filled with old tax papers, college loan receipts and other documents that should just be ripped up and burned. Stacks and stacks of documents, most of which I would never need in any sort of future dealings.

Then, there were smaller boxes of trinkets, mementoes and old business cards (you meet a lot of people in the journalism industry) of names I vaguely remembering meeting in some dive bar in Denver or conference in New York City. 

By the time I finally reached the back of the stairwell closet, I uncovered my old speakers and stereo system. I was elated when I plugged it in and attached my record player to it (pictured), the speakers soon cranking the golden vinyl sounds of Pure Prairie League, Gordon Lightfoot and Chicago. 

Going through other boxes, I found myself sitting on the living room floor for extended periods of time, simply rummaging through each piece found and examined for emotional value. 

It was photographs of old friends from high school, notes from former lovers who cross my mind from time-to-time, birthday and Christmas cards, concert tickets and media badges from wondrous events. 

And it was also funeral cards from wakes and masses of friends and family members now six feet under, but dearly missed. Those smiling faces with a birth and death date below their names, human beings once filled with love, laughter and unforgettable moments. 

All of those tokens mentioned above were placed in a few big boxes that would be put back in the closet for safe keeping, to perhaps reopen on a rainy day when I’m missing home back in Upstate New York and in search of items that make that distance from here to there seem that much closer, cosmically at least. 

After three seemingly endless days, the great apartment cleansing of 2020 finally came to an end. The final tally was eight 30-gallon bags of junk thrown away, with three 30-gallon bags of clothes to be donated once we’re able to drop things off again at the local nonprofits and Goodwill stores.

By Monday morning, I awoke in what felt like a brand-new apartment, even though I’ve lived in it since August 2012. Every inch of the place was cleaned out and wiped down. The indoor air smelled fresh and new, as did the appearance of the windows and kitchen counter. Furniture had been moved around, framed items shifted into new corners. 

Sitting back down in the recliner, my vision slid back over to the closet, the pile long gone, now just an open door into an abyss with a few boxes and coats hanging up. Glancing around the apartment, I smiled with a sense of contentment only found in the midst of personal transition, one triggered by tossing out your cluttered past in hopes of making room for the unknown future. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

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