I despise cleaning out the basement. When faced with that task, my initial thought is that it’s going to be hard and dirty work and terribly unrewarding. Sure, old and broken things collect in the basement. But that’s a good place for old things, right? After all, basements aren’t just for hot water heaters but for old tricycles, guitar cases and broken lamps. Attics seem to store the things that are worth the price of carrying “uphill,” but the basement tends to be a way-station for the junk.
After years of observation and participation in an annual ritual of “basement cleanup,” I’ve concluded that good housekeeping must somehow begin there. It’s where my family finds itself each spring, taking a full day to wade through the clutter and dispose of things that no longer work or things that simply collect dust.
Now, as much as I will always hate the thought of cleaning the basement, I must admit that finishing the job leaves me feeling a bit hopeful. Disposing of the old junk creates open spaces and room for, well, “new junk” — items marked for next year’s disposal.
This year’s cleanup made me think about my own life. I wondered how much junk I’d been storing in my head. For quite a while my brain had been feeling as cluttered as my basement looked. I knew there were things I needed to mentally unload. But what were they? What thoughts had become burdensome and useless? How could I get rid of them? What sort of changes did I need to make?
It’s much easier to identify a broken lamp in the basement than to locate the mental junk. Most of our thoughts we consider important. They’re our comfort and the basis of our mental occupation. In a strange sort of way I think we even like the old junk. Think about it. Have you ever woken up in the morning trying to remember what it was you were worrying about the night before? You say to yourself, “I know there’s something I’m suppose to be worried about. What is it?” It’s as if you’re looking to return the burden to your mind, something to occupy the space that’s now void and uncomfortable.
Making the effort to look within and locate the junk take times and energy, but I’ll assure you it’s time well spent. It’s just so easy to get used to it and forget what empty space looks or feels like, isn’t it? But your head is exactly the place where good personal housekeeping begins. You’ve got to clear out the junk and make room for better and more important thoughts. Make room for thinking about something beautiful. Make room to enjoy your memories.
The “real estate” in your head is much more valuable than the square footage in your basement. It’s prime space and deserves to be treated more like a living room than a basement. But since it’s not in plain view of the public it tends to go unattended and become sloppy and burdensome. You feel that you can hide the mental-junk and no one will ever know the difference. But subconsciously you do know the difference. The burden is real, and it slows you down. Mental-junk limits the brain. But those limits are hard to sense, and typically you don’t even recognize them until they’re lifted.
As you grow older, this spring-cleaning becomes even more important as life itself becomes more difficult. Things tend to get more complicated and messy. Problems mount, and the burdens continue to build.
Ideally, you ought to work toward the habit of maintaining your head daily. You need time to think and collect — time to organize and throw things away. I know from experience that waiting until the junk piles up only compounds the job of clearing out. It becomes daunting and requires you to mount great mental strength to conquer.
Take advice from a guy who’s taken the long road. Don’t let your head become merely a way-station for junk. Keep it clean and orderly and use it to tackle the problems that’ll take you forward.
Levi Hill © 2004