January 11, 2010

A Clean Sweep

I think I've mentioned that I'm sort of obsessed with cleaning my house. I mean, not in a can't-do-anything-else way, but probably more than normal people. I just like things in order. Tidy. Jen thinks this is a control thing - since I have little control over my kid, at least I can do this. She's probably right. Wish I could be obsessively controlling about my diet and exercise instead. But I digress.

Being this way doesn't come free. There's a price to neatness, and yesterday, I had to pay the piper. You know all that crap you don't exactly know what to do with, but feel like you can't throw out? Most of us put it in a pile. Maybe it's a neat pile, in a basket, or a drawer. Or maybe it's lots of piles, that multiply, all over the guest bedroom or the formal dining room table. And, eventually, we must attack the pile(s) and make tough decisions, in order to clear up some space. For most people, this might happen once a year, or even more frequently.

Not me, though, because my piles are in my garage. I mean, John's garage. They aren't in my face year round, reminding me, daily, that they need attention. They could sit out there for years and years, and never bother me.

I'm quite certain they bother John, but he's tolerant and nice and hardly ever blows a fit about all that crap I save that takes up "his space". Except for when they really do sit out there for years and years.

Turns out, I haven't dealt with my crap in almost a decade. I'm a closet hoarder. Not the obvious kind, who can't find the bathroom and eventually ends up on a reality show, but the kind who hides all that shit and hopes that no one notices it's still there. I have a really hard time letting go of things.

But yesterday, completely out of the blue, I was overwhelmed with motivation and a desire to expand my clutter-free space. In an impromptu spree, while John was putting away all the Christmas stuff, I tackled it. I didn't question it. I didn't even take a Xanax. I only drank one beer the entire day, and it wasn't because of anxiety, it was because I was on a roll and I was thirsty.

In the end, I managed to eliminate no fewer than four large boxes of crap, not including the two plastic file cabinets that I never actually used and six pairs of shoes that long ago passed the last person in the family on the hand-me-down list. The really sad thing is that the majority of it was paper. Paper. Like old bills and bank statements and kids' school work. (Wait, you say, that's pretty normal. Most people don't throw that stuff out right away.) But it got better: I found files from a job I held 12 years ago. Birthday cards from people I no longer know. Warranties for products that aren't even in production anymore. Receipts for clothes that are currently coming back into style. And my favorite? A grocery list. Did I think I might need ideas for the next time I went shopping?

But I got rid of it all. Ok, most of it. In a flash of downsizing, I made bold, firm decisions about the stuff that had to go and the stuff that got to stay. John helped me neatly put all the newly packed bins back in tidy, smaller places and we admired the floor of our garage. A floor! And we can even open the beer fridge now, without knocking anything over.

I think 90% of it went. Like the matchbook from the restaurant in NYC, circa 1988, where I lit the table next to me on fire by accidentally tipping the end of my menu in the candle while boisterously talking with my hands. (Don't lie. You'd have kept that too.) And I finally let go of all the health benefit brochures from the job I had before Jack was born. I'm pretty sure I can't claim on those anymore.

But I did keep the first nameplate from my first cubicle at my first job. Partly because it's kind of cool, and partly because it's the only nameplate I ever had. And I saved every card my husband has ever written me, because there are hundreds, and every one of them says something worth reading for the rest of my life.
Some things just need to stay in the pile.


  1. Would you come take care of my piles!

  2. Were there any concert tickets in the pile?