Friday, March 12, 2010

Just Get Rid Of It!

A few nights ago I attended a class on home organization. It was taught by a good friend of mine named Susan. She’s easily the most organized person I know. Not only are her closets organized, but they’re attractive to look at. If I were her, I’d probably be tempted to leave the doors open all the time: Someone’s coming up the walk! Quick, open the closets! Someone open up the laundry room door!

I’m not exactly an ultra-organized person, but I am a person with relatively few belongings to organize. I like it that way. And it makes me come across as fairly organized. The other night, Susan was encouraging us to get rid of fifty per cent of our stuff. If I got rid of fifty per cent, I’d be in trouble. However, I did come away inspired to make the belongings I do have look nicer in their closets, drawers, and cupboards. Thank you, Susan!

I wrote the following essay about nine years ago.

I’ve often said that given two hours, my husband and I could empty the entire contents of our home onto the back lawn. Kent rolls his eyes whenever I make this claim, but really, I can’t see it taking us all that long. I’m not a saver. We simply don’t have a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff would drive me crazy. Kent does seem to have been born with the saver gene, but I’ve done my best over the years to curb the tendency. He brought a few choice items into the marriage sixteen years ago that are still with us. There are the wool socks his family brought home from Finland in the 1960’s. There are the plastic yogurt containers from Germany (don’t even bother asking), and there is his vast collection of gym shoes. We called them sneakers where I come from. He had more pairs of gym shoes – mostly basketball shoes in those days – than even an N.B.A. player could reasonably feel good about. These days it’s running shoes. Why can’t he get rid of them when he’s worn them out? I don’t know. It’s beyond me. You ask him.

I remember a character in an Anne Tyler novel I once read. She called herself a Clutter Counselor. For a fee, she would come into your home and, with an eye not fogged by sentimentality, get rid of all your junk from attic to basement. I could do that, I’ve often thought. My teenage daughter recently told me, by way of a compliment she insists, that I’m the least sentimental person she knows. She happens to be a saver. She learned at a young age to periodically rummage through the waste baskets, looking for treasures I might have accidentally discarded.

I’m not all that bad, though. Even I know there are some things that must be saved, such as birth certificates and other important documents, family photos, a few samlpes of the kids’ school work, the wedding album… Until recently, this stuff has been stored in the master bedroom, under the bed. Houses these days seem to be designed and built with so little storage capacity that even someone like me finds it inadequate. And just knowing this stuff was all crammed under our bed made me crazy. Periodically (not as often as I should have), I’d haul it all out from under there, dust it off, run the vacuum under the bed, then regretfully push it all back.

Last winter Kent built shelves into a large closet in our upstairs hall that had formerly housed a washer and dryer. Finally I had a place for all that stuff that was under our bed. I got it all organized neatly on the new closet shelves.

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to have nothing under this bed!” I’d exclaim to Kent on a nightly basis. “Look under there!” I’d insist. “Nothing!” Every day for the first few weeks I’d get down on my hands and knees and peer under there. Daylight on the other side! For a while, I even vacuumed under there regularly because it was so easy to do. “Have you looked under the bed today?” I’d ask Kent. “Go ahead,” I’d encourage him, “there’s nothing there.” After a while he started to glance at me with a strange look on his face every time I said this. I guessed I was overdoing it.

I finally got my chance to declutter someone else’s house a couple of summers ago. We were visiting my parents and the kids discovered the eaves across the front of the house. I hadn’t been in there for years. No one had, by the look of things. They’d only shoved more and more stuff in without taking any out. Once I got started, there was no stopping me. By the end of about three days, I’d gone through everything. After making a pile for my sister, one for my brother, and one for my parents (there was nothing I was even tempted to hold onto), we hauled at least ten garbage bags to the dump. It felt so good. To this day, they haven’t missed a thing. And I didn’t even charge them.

Today I think I may have discovered the reason why my husband started giving me those strange looks every time I mentioned the void under our bed. As I passed through the bedroom this morning, I thought I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the toe of a running shoe peeking out at me from under the bed. I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to investigate. Besides, maybe it’s better if I just don’t know.


  1. I remember those eves. . . sleepovers, popcorn, and feathers for Marcia after she fell asleep!

  2. Just one teensy tiny little did you manage to "curb the tendency?" I haven't been so successful with my "saver" guy (I still love him, though). Maybe you could share your tips, better yet, maybe I could hire you to go through his stuff. Then he could be mad at you and not at me. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Are you up for it?

  3. Now at our house, the problem is that I have no use whatsoever for all the stuff that Mark saves, and he has no use whatsoever for mine. So...we have closet wars--which he tends to win. He has completely taken over about 1/2 the closets in my house. (And I had a lot of closets put into this house, so that's a very bad sign.) Men save their old shoes because they never know when they might need them. For what--don't ask.