While I was in Memphis I busted ass trying to help my mother get her house in shape. I emptied out cabinet after cabinet of stuff, cleared out the fridge and scrubbed what I could. While I did some of the more down and dirty jobs, my mom diligently got rid of boxes and boxes of clothes.

One of my mother’s big fears when cleaning is getting rid of something that is useful or that someone else could benefit from. Unfortunately, this means her heart of gold has her saving things that could help a friend, colleague or student in need, but that don’t end up ever leaving her house. With lots of discussion about how it was not helping her be healthy and happy to keep all these things she agreed to start filling boxes with items to donate. At first she wanted to fill the boxes to take to church, school or send to somebody who might know somebody, but I was able to help her see that we needed to get things OUT. We settled on putting an ad on Craigslist for people to come and just take whatever was on the curb, and we agreed that if no one came by to take it, I would take anything left to Goodwill. (Goodwill was the nearest charity to her house) Believe it or not, I only had to take one load to Goodwill. Everything else was picked up off the curb – I saw one family stop several times. As I relayed this to her, she was able to feel better about her things going to a family for free.

Cleaning out food was another matter altogether. We had our most tense moments dealing with food, medicines and trinkets stored in the kitchen and bathroom. Food is a very touchy topic with my mom as when I was very small she and my father were very, very, poor. Throwing food away simply does.not.compute. It took me calling a Memphis area food bank to convince her (and my dad, who grew up in poverty) that if it was too expired for the food bank, it was too long expired to keep or give away.

While I left the house cleaner than I found it, I felt a deep sense of failure that even my loose expectations were shattered. As I worked steadily for a week on the kitchen, my kitchen cleaning breaks were spent clearing out and cleaning other rooms in the house. I was able to tackle an endless stream of laundry – mostly clean that had pet hair, dust or had simply been sitting so long no one could remember if it was clean or not. I sorted the mystery sock pile and was able to sift through items that no longer fit or were wanted. (This was aside from the clean clothing mom was simultaneously sifting through in several closest and bedrooms) I was able to clean most of the cabinets in the kitchen – emptying them, scrubbing them, scrubbing the contents and putting everything back. The kitchen ceiling was primed and painted (water damage from a storm) But I never finished fully cleaning even ONE room.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Not even one room was left fully clean and organized. Even so, even with the disappointment I felt with myself, I can now call this venture a success. How can I change my mind so completely now? My mom called me yesterday to report on what she has been doing since I left. Never in a million years did I think I would hear those words coming from her! I am so proud of her for soldiering on even without help! Happy, happy, joy, joy!