Tina Weikert: Just go for it — clean out that shed

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Garage bands, man caves, she sheds ... for as long as humans have built shelter, we've craved identity within our spaces. Who's to say exactly how to translate ancient cave paintings? What if, similar to the red and white personalized "Parking" signs found in every American gift shop, it simply states, "This cave, property of Mike."

Properties contain our living space, and often a shed or two. Sheds, if we're honest with ourselves, are signs of excess. What spills over from our apartments, houses and garage shelves end up in the shed.

My family's shed houses a push mower, a dirt bike in need of repair and a snowblower. Piled in and around and on top of these bulky machines rest acres of gardening pots and equipment. In summer, with my left foot placed on the mower's deck, my right grasping for the dirt bike's handle, I can launch myself to somehow reach the watering can, thoughtfully hung high on a hook. On days the lawnmower is in use, I do not water.

It is laborious work to use the shed. Somehow, I go about the entire gardening season functioning as though this is efficient. By fall, nothing is in its proper, disorganized place anymore and any thought of returning the space to its former halfhearted glory is outweighed by the disaster that is an autumn garden. If I feel any stirring toward tidiness, I send myself to uproot the browning bean plants and the feeling quickly passes.

I do hold affections for my shed — from afar. When viewed with its doors closed from the deck, with nothing stacked outside of it to draw attention away from its Cape Cod gray siding, it looks proper. Sometimes, when gazing at it in the correct mood, I fancy its potential.

Thoreau had his cabin on Walden Pond. Better yet, Mark Twain had his writing gazebo. I'm often pointing this out to my relatives, reminding them that Twain's sister-in-law, Susan Langdon Crane, loved him so much that she built him a structure on her property in Elmira, New York.

Twain had long been spending summers visiting his sister-in-law and her family in the country. With the octagonal gazebo's arrival, he not only could visit, but write to his heart's content. Naysayers comment that it was to give Twain's sister-in-law some necessary breathing room. I can't help but disagree. Who doesn't love a writer in the family?

I live in a reverse situation: I'm the sister and the writer. My brother's a lawyer, and though he loves me, he won't build me a writing gazebo. My parents laugh and point at the deskless spare bedroom when I visit. The only grain of respect I've been shown has been from my in-laws, whose guest bedroom happens to feature a collapsible card table and a smattering of pens. Sometimes, when writing there, I add a cup of coffee to the mix for real authenticity.

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But what about my shed in need of cleaning, which I've been putting off — in this column and in real life?

Last weekend, it was high time to confront the beast within. Creaking open the shed doors, I peered inside, and something immediately fell on my head. One must persevere in matters of cleanliness, so with a final thrust, I entered and began.

Relics of my past greeted me. They've been hiding deep within the recesses of the shed since they were first put there in 2005, like a moving box in the attic that never got unpacked.

I hauled everything out into the light of day: Many, many, many garden pots and trays. Three shovels, two sets of loppers, a table saw and a stepladder. A rusty ax. A sharpened ax. Many, many, many kid toys. An antique bedwarmer I acquired in my travels and had lost for years. Two jousting lances from Santa. A dangerously fun set of lawn darts from the great-grandparents. Even a few items I was aware of like that unreachable watering can and my collection of snake and hawk decoys for the garden.     

There is a preferred method to cleaning out a space. I know the steps well and enlist them time and time again when helping friends or neighbors. I've used the system within my house, to splendid, tidy results.

The shed proved different. It's not that I didn't want to get the task done, but it was taking so much time, I whined to no one in particular. The removal of items onto the lawn felt good, but now what? It was overwhelming to consider sorting all the piles into trash, recycling or to keep or donate. But the sun was warm, and my stuff was all exposed, so I kept at it. It took a solid day, but folks, the shed is cleaned out.

I had extracted and organized all that clutter, and hauled the recycling to the driveway so that I wouldn't forget to drop it off. I found the shed, once empty, to be structurally sound. Astoundingly, when returning my items into the shed, I encountered a spacious interior. Roomy enough for the watering can, now hanging thoughtfully at eye level.

Tina Weikert writes for Southern Vermont Landscapes from Bondville.


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