Last week, a mold incident spawned a forced Marie Kondo of my life's possessions.
"I think there's something where the world needs you to lose all your stuff, so you can transition to the next phase of your life," my roommate Alexa said to me (paraphrased) as it happened.
I was storing my stuff in cardboard boxes in my friends Conor and Hope's basement, and didn't think much of his casual phone call that it was starting to smell moldy. A few days later, another call: you gotta get over here.
Rain had come into the garage and pooled under a few of my boxes, creating mold and even a solid-sized mushroom growing in the damp concrete.
This was one of those times where life stops, tasks languish, plans get canceled, and the work gloves come on.
Conor and I had no idea what we were doing, but we went to Lowes and bought some new plastic bins. I went through the boxes to survey the wreckage, throwing out the few things that were damp, and sorting through all my stuff to put together a large trash and donation bin. I thought I was almost done.
A Facebook post led to more information, and hiring mold guru Celeste to help. I learned from her that the problem was far worse than I'd thought — mold spores travel far, and can stay forever waiting for the right damp opportunity. The treatments recommended by the internet: ammonia, vinegar, sunlight, ozone, all worked to some degree, but nothing was perfect. All paper would have to go.
It took a day, but I got used to the idea that I was going to throw away most of my stuff. I hate putting things in the trash, especially clothing or objects that could still have some use. But I wasn't going to donate a mold problem to someone (and worried about the donation I'd already made...)
So we turned on some jams and laid out some tarps in Conor and Hope's front yard. I went through each of my possessions and laid things out into trash, laundry, or other treatment piles, which we sorted further based on what treatments they needed. We had an ammonia rinse bucket, a water bucket, a vinegar bucket, spray bottles, rags, an ozone machine...
Unmoored from my daily routine, it became, as Alexa alluded to, a transformational challenge. Every object I wanted to keep needed personal attention: wiping it down, moving it from tarp to tarp. Do I want this in my life? Then I need to choose it. I need to pay attention to it.
I learned a lot about myself in the process — what I chose to keep, and what was meaningful to me. I'm a hoarder of toiletries, because I buy extra and hate to throw them away.
I had kept a lot of memories from experiences: a connection game I made for a party built from Cards Against Humanity; a prompt asking people what they were grateful for, with long responses from people at an event.
There was a moment, looking at old objects, when I was struck by the memory of who I was before I started my company, with wide-eyed, soft optimism and an infatuation with my community and friends. A me I separated from in my pursuit of creation. I am still that person and yet can mourn a little of his soul.
The Burning Man equipment, the warm weather gear, the camping gear. Once I had accepted that I was going to lose a lot of money, most of it didn't matter. But letters mattered. I had kept letters from my dad, wedding announcements, pieces of paper from art projects. I put off until last my box of wall decorations: what I had chosen, in the last apartment I had before my life was consumed by my company, to look at every day and reflect back who I was. A quote about art. Photos of friends. Journals from travels, meditation retreats, mushroom trips, workshops.
Celeste told me that everything with paper on it had to be thrown away, so I was contemplating the loss of these objects. They could be digitized, yes, but these papers had traveled with me. They were a part of my self. And was it time to let go even of those? Was it time to not be that person any more?
I contemplated losing every physical object I own and wondered, what can we become if we can really let go of who we were? How much power would there be in forgetting? Could it possibly be worth it?
Then Celeste had a great idea — I can put the papers into a mold box, which I know might have mold, but can open in the sunshine and look at from time to time.
So much of what Michael used to be is in trash bags, taken by the mold. And so many of my memories are in my mold box — perhaps a bit musty, but with me nonetheless.
I'm grateful for this frenzied pit stop on the wringer of life I'm in now...a time of transitions, completion, destruction, and new beginnings. Especially as I consider moving to another city and further into the me I want to be next.
I'm grateful for the time I could spend with Conor and Hope, working in their front yard had such a warm, neighborly feeling of community, and Celeste, who made the whole thing feel like a fun work project.
And I'm grateful, especially, to the things I have kept. I have chosen you to be in my life. I know what you are, and why each of you is here. We've wiped you down, laid you out, arranged you on tarps. I'm glad you're with me for the ride.