Parting the bedroom curtains last weekend on the first cool Saturday of September, I noticed that the patio was alive with birds. Two robins bathed in the backyard fountain, and a couple of mourning doves, solemn as Pilgrims, sat on a low-lying limb. A couple of cardinals breakfasted at the feeder, and a wren darted through on some urgent errand only a bird would understand.

I wondered if the presence of so many birds outside was something new — or if they’d been there all along, made newly visible by autumn’s thinning landscape. Maybe, as I told myself, I needed a great clearing of the view on the other side of the window, too — within the rooms of a house heavy with what we no longer need. Too often, I know, clutter blinds me to the blessings that hide like clever birds among shirts I’ll no longer wear, gadgets gathering dust, toys with owners now old enough to vote.

Which is why, on a glorious weekend that seemed perfect for outdoor chores, I instead embraced my wife’s longstanding request that we clean out our bedroom closet.

Inside a cramped walk-in storage space I once thought as big as a church, I found versions of my old self, forgotten like the husks of locusts liberated from lives they no longer lead.


There were neckties from the '90s, blooming with more paisley than a Beatles album. Pants two sizes too small, bought for a slender man I wouldn’t recognize. Shirts stained with ink, or frayed at the collars, or worn as thin as parchment. Christmas gifts politely accepted in some yuletide that seems as distant as Dickens, then banished to the back of a shelf, not seen again until now.

Treasures surfaced, too. That felt jacket I assumed was lost for good? There it was, sandwiched within the folds of other winter clothes, and retrieved as miraculously as a child pulled from a well. Sinking my hand into its pocket, I found a shopping list, written in my wife’s hand, listing ingredients for a broccoli casserole we make only on Thanksgiving.

Gratitude, I guess, is what I felt as I sifted through this sediment of the seasons of my life, looking for the bright stuff I’d like to keep, an old miner panning for gold.


Among the sweaters and belts, the loud tropical shirts every father uses to embarrass his children, I found hospital scrubs inked with two tiny footprints. It was the shirt the nurses made me wear in the delivery room when our first child was born. The footprints are hers, a souvenir of her arrival.

Through misted eyes, my wife snapped a photo of the shirt, texting it to a daughter now in college.

By day’s end, we’d cleared the closet of a dozen garbage bags of stuff, and I knew exactly what I want for Christmas.

Nothing. Not a thing.

Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.