The last 10 percent

To a detail-oriented person, eliminating the last 10% of the contents of a house is harder than the preceding 90%.

Once all the items with obvious destinations are moved, and all the items with an obvious value have been sold, the house remains cluttered with things that are complicated.

For example a scrapbook of old photos:  Should you store it somewhere, or should you scan it and then throw it away?  You need to get rid of your scanner too, so you have to decide now if you ever want it scanned.  Instead of throwing it away should you mail it to someone?  Perhaps you could take out a couple of the photos you really like, and then throw away the rest.  If you scan them, should you email copies to someone?  Upload them somewhere?  Or just leave them on a hard drive stuffed in a storage unit?  Until you make this decision, the house cannot be empty.

At some point you reach that weird stage of the process where you’re second-guessing your regular habits.  You open up the dishwasher full of clean dishes and ask yourself:  Should I really be stacking these back in the cabinet?  You notice that you’re down to one bar of soap and you ask:  Should I bother getting another?

And there is a stage even beyond this, where you realize you have done something for the last time and now a chore is looming before you that you never encountered before.  This is the last shower I’ll be taking here; it’s time to take down the shower curtain and trash it.  This is the last piece of toast I’ll make with this toaster; time to shake out the crumbs, wipe it off, and set it on the curb.  This is the last time I’ll be locking the back door.  Find the spare key that’s hidden under the flower pot, and stick it back on the ring.

Take all the hooks off the walls.  Unplug the fridge.  Roll up the old welcome mat and stuff it in the garbage.

There is never a time when these last few chores don’t feel sad, even if the place was the scene of suffering or discontent and we are happy to be done with it.  The good feelings come from our anticipation of a better time somewhere else.  For these final moments in the old place, we think about how it might have been different.  We never enjoy erasing ourselves, or confronting the fact that there are no more choices to make.  We did our best – or maybe not – but either way we are done.

It’s that last 10% that feels like forever.

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