Posted April 10, 2020
Sharon Wood Wortman, aka “Portland’s Bridge Lady,” shared her recent experience of social distancing-induced decluttering:
Incessant writers, husband Ed and I have always gone from one project to the next without stopping to sort or toss. Whatever else the current virulent state of affairs has afforded, it’s simultaneously freed up our time and our urge to finally let go. Because the Metro Transfer Station is open regular hours — considered one of the city’s 'necessary services' — we weighed the risk. Given there is little contact with Metro staff, we felt it better to purge now instead of waiting. Given our number of revolutions around the sun, more than ever we are feeling there is no time left to be living in last week, never mind in the better half of the 20th century.
The nudge for lightening the load of at least one storage unit, our fireplace hearth, and a back bedroom: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, text and drawings by Margareta Magnusson (Scribner: 2018).
The gist of this tidy and droll 113-page NYT bestseller is that you are going to be eulogized with fewer swear words if you make your own trips to the dump, before vacating to the eternal beyond. "A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you." (Page 33.)
Among the first 30 or so mixed paper-filled boxes: Ed’s required reading from Planning School, for example, and columns of how-to equations for constructing with steel.
More: 11x14-inch stacks of the countless early versions of The Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver, a system timetable from when I worked at Union Pacific in the late Seventies and early Eighties, and the odd Rose Festival guide. But not my eighth-grade wood-bound (real Douglas fir) Gilbert Grade School “Oregon” report, dating to 1958. Among other long-buried items held back, an expired passport, verification that in 1984 I'd still been a true-blue redhead. Also exempt from recycle, if not from curbside garbage pickup at home: a few souvenir chocolate bars from the Hawthorne Bridge's Centennial celebration in 2010. And then there were the stacks of outdated indemnity agreements holding Multnomah County harmless in the event I’d lose a bridge walker on the County’s Morrison or Burnside bridges while earning a living as a tour guide between 1991 and 2010.
For my part, Monday’s trip and the one yesterday were sad, cathartic, scary, freeing, painful, and gratitude-inducing for the life I’ve been given — the early part with some stinky garbage in it, while the end’s been more gravy-like, to borrow a sentiment from poet Raymond Carver.
Despite I am a practicing memoirist, it’s on to the next load. Goal today: at least six boxes of financial records of a date safe to be sent to a shredding site, including all those demand letters from Sallie Mae, 1996 graduate school applications, and a dog-eared edition of The GRE for Dummies.
Sharon Wood Wortman
April 3, 2020