Contentment: The Basement Edition

I have just spent the last 48 hours locked in my basement.

Okay, maybe not the last 48 hours straight, and maybe I wasn’t technically locked in the basement, but boy oh boy, it felt like it.

First, let me tell you about the building where I live, for a bit of context. Do you know Le Corbusier? He was a rather famous architect. He didn’t design my building, but one of his acolytes, Daniel Girardet, did. You wouldn’t necessarily know by looking at my building that it was anything special. It looks like a concrete post-war block with balconies.

The neighborhood where I live was completely destroyed in World War II. It was rebuilt in the 1950s with one of those grandiose ideas that it would be the ideal neighborhood. It was built according to the aesthetics of the time (which, are to me, at least, rather charming.) The whole neighborhood is made of concrete and glass.

Our building underwent a renovation in 2010. I was curious to see the inside of the building, so we visited one of the apartments. I fell in love: the apartments are bright and spacious with interesting little details. We moved in in 2012. (I don’t call him my indulgent husband for nothing!)

We moved into a building that had been entirely renovated, from head to toe.

The basement

Our basement storage unit is in a concrete maze under the building. It was tidy and dry when we first moved in. We used to keep our bikes in the basement, until someone broke into our unit and stole on the day I was at the clinic having a miscarriage.

Over the years, as I attempted to declutter the apartment and make space for our children here, I would often take down bags of too-small little boy clothes, toys that didn’t work or that I had confiscated for any number of reasons. I had a bin of my own clothes. I had bags of donatable items that I hadn’t gotten around to donating yet. There was furniture that had been removed to make way for baby beds.

The last time I had been down in the basement was back when I did my seasonal changeover from winter to summer. My husband had been down there, getting toys or tools or whatever. He went far more often than I. He didn’t bother to tell me what was happening down there.

What was happening? 1. The humidity from a very very wet spring and summer was oozing through those massive concrete walls, causing mold to grow on everything. 2. We had a very serious moth problem in the basement.

I went down to look for something that I had wanted to give to a friend for her baby, and when I arrived into front of our door, discovered it was covered in moths. A while back, I wrote that one of my impetus for minimalism was a moth problem we had had when my eldest was born, a problem which sprang from a basket of gently used baby clothes from a dear friend.

I had been getting cocky there for a while: in the apartment, we hadn’t had moths in a good long time. I thought I had finally beaten the problem. You may remember that I had long believed that our moth problem was my fault. The plague was the proof and my punishment for being an awful person.

Do it NOW

The basement has been a waystation, a purgatory for stuff for years. It was messy, there was no order to anything. When I realized how bad it had gotten down there, between the mold on the door (not our fault) to the moth infesting (entirely my fault), I knew I had to get violently ruthless.

The good news was this: both of my boys were supposed to be going on a field trip to the farm, which meant I would have an entire day, no need to pick them up at lunch time, on this last Monday. And, interestingly enough, it coincided with the day in my Ideal Life Exercise when I consider my Contentment, which is when I examine my relationship with my stuff.

Already on Sunday afternoon, I took an hour or so to start taking stock, trying to see what could be salvaged, and what had been damaged beyond repair.

I quickly realized that anything made of textile that had not been in a sealed plastic container had to be thrown out. Not washed. Not donated. Thrown out, and immediately.

This broke my heart. There were bags of lovely little boy clothes that I would have wanted to give to my little nephew, or to my friends with little boys. But everything, and all the memories that went with them, had to immediately go to the dumpster.

Sheets, Christmas decorations, decorative baskets, flags, tents, backpacks, stuffed animals biking gear. All in the dumpster. My heart ached.

Once there was room from all of those things that were out of the space, I started looking at other odds and ends that had been thrown in the basement. Tomato stakes, table legs from a broken table, tent stakes, pieces of a highchair, pieces of a booster seat. I loaded them in the car.

Not to mention that a neighbor who had moved out at least a year ago had left a pile of junk under the stairs in the basement which had been an object of scorn for all the neighbors. I loaded that pile of junk into the car, too. (If something pisses you off, do something about it, I always say.)

I went to the dump. With every load I threw over the side of the container, I felt lighter. Yes, I felt awful that I was throwing things at the dump. But I also, with every load, saw that my moth problem was going to be dealt with. That the mass of rotting, useless objects in our possession was being reduced.

The Spiritual Benefit of going to the dump

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, where thieves break in an steal.” Matthew 6:19

Never has the verse ever hit more close to home. Already, our basement had been broken into and our bicycles had been stolen. I had considered that part of the verse back then. I also, in the midst of my first moth infestation, had considered the moth part. Then there is the mold. ugh, that mold on everything.

But here, I couldn’t necessarily consider any of what was in the basement a “treasure” I was storing up. There were a few odds and ends that could have been nice to hand down to other families, but there was no treasure per se.

Here I was, storing up trash for moths and vermin and mold to destroy. Here I was, making my life far more complicated and messier than it needed to be. Do not store up… Jesus says.

Do not store up.

I am not proud that I unloaded all that junk at the dump. I am not proud that my environmental footprint got that much bigger over the last 48 hours. But what I am is convicted.

Just don’t do it.

The basement isn’t empty yet, but I have extracted a promise from my husband that he will deal with the moldy, rotting furniture that is down there this weekend. Yet again, it breaks my heart that we let those things rot down there, instead of getting them to someone else’s home where they could have been usable and helpful when they were in good condition. This is one of the greatest regrets I have.

Let me tell you, after the last 48 hours, I will think twice before I take something to the basement again. I will think twice before I bring anything into our apartment that might one day end up being obsolete, whether it be a piece of clothing, a piece of furniture, a toy.

The feeling in my lungs after spending 48 hours breathing in the mold and dust of our basement will probably dissipate (oh, I hope it does), but I hope that the urgency I feel about not accumulating stuff doesn’t.

One final thought

“Where your treasure is, your heart will be too.” Matthew 6:21

I often quote this Bible verse when I talk about my closet. I wanted to stop putting my treasure into my wardrobe, because I wanted to stop having my heart wrapped up in what I was wearing.

I didn’t realize how very much, without it being on a conscious-level, my heart was dwelling in a cold, dark, moldy, moth-filled basement until I had taken a load of moldy, moth-ridden “treasures” to the dump. I experienced an immediate lightness and availability that I had not known in years, not since I arrived in France with a couple of suitcases and a cat.

Is there a “treasure” that is weighing you down? How can you redirect your heart by eliminating that “treasure?” Do you need to hire someone to empty your basement? Do you need to rent a dumpster bin and just get that stuff out?

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

12 thoughts on “Contentment: The Basement Edition

  1. I too had mold in my basement and now and working to simplify and purge what I can. It does take awhile. But I slowly fill the backseat of my car with bags of things to donate and when i go by the donation place I drop it off. it really helps! there’s a website and youtube lady i follow called The Minimal Mom. She does helpful posts about minimizing your life, in stuff, clothing and papers.

    Liked by 2 people

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