The Garden Shed of Life

A simple cleaning out of a garden shed can give you insights into your personality and place in history.

Shadows on the garden shedIt was the final frontier. The last outpost.

This summer we have been clearing out our home of almost 25 years, preparing to put it on the market. While we are not hoarders, over that many years things accumulate. What took years to gather around us has been largely dispersed in about three weeks.

The house looks great. Even the garage is swept, organized and spacious-feeling.

We left the shed till the last, on two assumptions. One, potential buyers care less about sheds. And two, it would be nasty.

I know we were right on the second point. On a recent day I got to it. I slid the doors open wide – or attempted to.

One was actually braced by a heavy ladder from inside and never meant to move. The other slides but has no handle. So my first challenge was to figure out how to rig these doors so that they might work for a potential buyer.

I failed at that and went to plan B: I plastered large notes on the doors apologizing for their dysfunctionality. So lesson one is that we forget what we know. Especially when it’s inconvenient and broken.

Next, everything came out onto the lawn. Planters, gardening tools, potions to make things grow and potions to stop them from growing. Parts from a long-abondoned water fountain. Planting soil. Some motor oil for a gas mower (we now have electric). Mesh to keep things from growing up through rockery. Mesh to keep birds from eating all the berries. More flower pots – clay ones, plastic ones, styrocrete (heavy looking but light) ones.

A broken hoe, its truncated wooden handle painted orange, that I had kept purely for nostalgia. One year my dad had painted all his garden implements orange because he had some extra house paint. OK, there it is: a short, orange memory.

Snow shovels. You know you live in a northern climate when you pull out six shovels and one industrial looking ice chipper.

The sundry items were then sorted into four piles: stuff for a friend who is heavily into urban gardening, stuff he didn’t want that would be donated elsewhere, stuff for the landfill, and a very small pile of items to go back in the shed.

That last category leads to learning number two: what one actually needs (in a shed, in a home, in life) is always a very small subset of what one accumulates. Later, when I had put these items back, the shed looked positively cavernous. The shed itself, I realized, was way too big. Learning number three: stuff will accumulate to fill the available spaces, so build / own / rent smaller spaces.

Lesson four was a personal one. I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you. But I was embarrassed, in surveying my piles on the lawn, by my lazy disorganization. You see, among the piles were three different little bags of lawn seed, one of which I had bought just days before (not having actually gone out to the shed to see if I already had seed). Similarly with those small hand shovels and unopened containers of fertilizer. So lesson four: waste not. Look before you buy.

Before re-equipping the shed, I needed to clean it. Lesson five: we are not the only critters on the planet. Many small beings can find a shed quite cozy, evidence the cob webs, the little piles of dirt, the nibbled garden gloves, the cocoons and indistinguishable (to me) nests.

When I saw all the lively activity that had been going on in the dark, forgotten shed, I thought of Lorna Crozier’s wonderful book of poems, The Garden Going On Without Us. Perhaps this is lesson six: life goes on, whether we are paying attention, or even there, or not.

And the final lesson: a garden shed ain’t a bad metaphor for the way our lives accumulate layers of meaning through the years.


Photo Credit

“Shadows on the Shed” egefan – Suzan Almond @ Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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