Thursday, June 11, 2009

287: declutter bug + sale in shop

I leave for New Jersey in three days, and suddenly, I'm trying to finish up all sorts of tasks before I go: preparing the garden for Ryan's care, stocking up on cat litter, writing a review for my friend, getting packages in the mail, finishing up library books.

One such book is Throw Out Fifty Things!, a book my friend Angie spotted on the shelves at the bookstore while we waited to have our books signed by Michael Pollan last month. "Ha, I could start with that book," I joked.

That night I requested it at the library.

Everyone who knows me at all, especially if they have been cursed with my fretting before a visit, knows that I am one who ... clings? collects? clutters? Send me to a library book sale or a book fair at AWP, and I'll come home laden. I subscribe to The New Yorker and insist on finishing each issue, then cannot simply recycle them when I am done--I want to mail articles to my friends and family so they too can enjoy the better articles and pieces. I love letterpress stationary, and I send letters to my widowed grandmother and my best friend each day--one might think I'd churn through the supply with this sort of steady output, but I spend more time using up Steno notebooks and the backs of extra handouts; I don't want the paper to be recycled until it has been used to its fullest. The Epilepsy Foundation comes around once a month, or every other month, so we have bags of things collecting on the porch, and when I remember, I put them out (this last time, I remembered on a rainy day, which resulted in much of the donation being rejected, but the next day I discovered my neighbor having a garage sale, and I donated some of the better items to her).

My friend Emily has a good rule--which I can't remember precisely--but it has to do with the length of time (one year?) of use. If you haven't worn / used it in the past 365 days, it goes, with the exception of sentimental items (and books, which is my greatest accumulation, but also something I try to maintain with reason as well--if I don't suspect I'll re-read it, I send it on--even if I really enjoyed the book).

My mother-in-law reminded me that people who visit are there to visit us and not judge the state of my home.

My friend Chris once called an apartment of mine "lived-in." Homey and comfortable. I hadn't quite gotten so out-of-control with the clutter then, but the bookcases lined an entire wall, my computer desk shared space with the dining room table, and the walls were full of posters.

This book, Throw Out Fifty Things, is written in a participatory tone--get into that bedroom and tell me what you see! I've thrown out three mis-matched socks, and how are you doing? One feels she ought to read the book one chapter at a time, moving on to a new chapter when the room is done. I thought I might, and after finishing the bedroom chapter, I went to sleep, thinking I'd tackle it in the morning. But I couldn't sleep. My brain did that whirling thing it does sometimes: I need to start with the clutter around the closets before I get to the closet, I need to figure out what to do with all those extra books in there, I need to write that review for Karen's lit mag, I need to figure out what textbook to use for the comp class I'm teaching in the fall, I need to really start using up that looseleaf paper in those letters to Kelly and Grandma, I need to live a more interesting life in order to have something to write about, I think you missed your chance to send Carolyn your chapbook draft, I can't believe you haven't sent out a poem in months, and how could you let those reviews go for so long?, and tell me, are you ever going to feel like your home could accommodate children, and don't forget you have to .... It wouldn't stop. I rolled out of bed and sat on the futon in the second bedroom, looking around at what might be the worst room in the house, the catching ground for all of my useless things. I found a birthday card I'd meant to mail to some guy friend and wrote Kelly a letter on it, letting my brain do its whirly hamster thing, reaching into the basement and my boxes of high school English teacher things (will I need them again? will I teach high school again?) and up to the attic with my bins of fabric and yarn (maybe Chelsea will take them, I haven't sent a package to Project Linus in a long while...).

It's disastrous to think like this, especially when it's four in the morning and your husband has to get up for work and what can you do anyway when so much of your clutter has a task attached to it? Put into boxes for mailing, write letters, read and send away.

Halfway through the book now, reading quickly and storing away bits for when I can do this room-by-room and not face the giant to-do-before-New-Jersey, I came upon something that can be added to Emily and Sue's tips: so much that we cling to and won't let go is about the past and isn't letting us move on. She cites a warm up comedian for one of those late night shows who doesn't even keep the tapes to his best performances--if he keeps them, he might not be able to grow, change according to the time and the audience. And her best advice is that if some item has any negative connotation, if it makes us feel bad in any way, it is the easiest target for throwing.

She also lists plenty of resources for green options. For me, it's the Epilepsy Foundation, for the most part, unless there's something I think a good friend or family member might appreciate. I don't want to bother with tag sales or trying to sell books online. I like that when I'm reading a book I know I probably won't keep, I'm running through my reading friends in my mind, trying to place that book with the right reader. It doesn't always work out, but I like trying. And I hope my dad enjoys that Shakespeare tissue holder (where the tissue comes out of Shakespeare's nose); I know my grandma loves the ranuncula bulbs I sent her; I'm glad to fill these boxes and move on.

Oh, and in light of that, I've relisted the postcards I've had in my shop for some time at half price. So you can get the Alaska set (12 different cards) or Michigan set (2 each of 5 different cards) for $5.00 plus shipping or a set of the cup fungus Alaska postcards (10 of the same image) for $3.00 plus shipping. You know, to help clear out that clutter! :) (I won't be able to ship from June 14-26 though as I'll be in NJ.)

Does anyone else have this clutter problem? So many of my friends are so good at keeping their homes neat. I'm wondering if there are any other tips to add to my cache. You know, besides keeping me away from library dollar-a-bag book sales.

Edit to add: Also, here's a nice article about keeping your counters clutter-free.


michelle said...

oh molly. i loved reading this post. you said everything i think but wrote it a whole lot better!

i'm trying so hard to go through - wait - i'm THINKING so hard about ACTUALLY going through all my clutter and trying to figure out how to part with it.

i think to myself. if could just throw out that box - what is even in it. so then i open it and become reattached to the stuff i haven't seen in years!

my big plan was to try and go through and post-it the things i really want to keep for sentimental reasons and such. then my mom volunteered to come when i was out and toss/donate the rest. i can't see it leave. but i want it gone.

what a mess.

should we make a goal of having a joint garage sale? a purging of sorts? it'd have to be in august. and if we do it in duluth my mom can get one of those tents to use. let me know!

Chris said...


I also loved your post! I laughed out loud at some parts. FYI, my clutter is less because I haven't had money for a really long time. And, my accumulations are plants...and sometimes they die. I have way too many clothes and I hate doing laundry. I need some help in that area. Sometime. A garage sale/giveaway...???

Angie said...

I recently heard a good quote. It was something along these lines:

If you're coming to see me, stop by anytime. If you're coming to see my house, make an appointment.

I so thought of you, Molly. You really need that on a plaque over your door.

Molly said...

Ha! No, Angie, no more "things" for our house... heehee. Which means no plaque.

But yeah, that sounds about right.

Michelle + Chris: I'm glad I have found kindred spirits in the war against stuff. I don't know if a garage sale is worth the trouble? Maybe if done collectively, it would be fun! I always felt grateful for people who would take our stuff into their own garage sales... I didn't have to deal with the sitting, the cleanup, the facing of all the stuff that didn't sell. It's easier when I know the Epilepsy Foundation has a particular pick up date. :) That might be a bit lazy...

Eireann said...

Moving across the world has really helped me...I seem to attract 'stuff'--mostly paper--and I got rid of most of my old 'stuff' the last couple of times I was home. It's hard, and sometimes I regret a few little things, but for the most part it feels good.

Get rid, get rid!

michelle said...

garage sales are a bit of a pain - but perhaps if we did it together not so much?

and yes - dealing with leftovers. perhaps i'll put chris (not you chris - my chris) in charge of taking them to the battered women's shelter or something. if left to me i'd probably end up bringing them back into the house...

carrster said...

Yes, we have a clutter war going on here as well. We have lived in our "new" house since last September and still can't park 2 cars in it. Ay yi yi. I have a "Good Will" pile, a "we-might-have-another-baby" pile, a pile that should probably just be tossed, a pile that I *should* sell on Craigslist or eBay, etc etc. sometimes I think I would feel so much freer if I would just empty the craft closet and get rid of all the supplies I'VE NEVER USED but it pains me to think about that. So much potential.

It's an ongoing battle. I think it comes down to personality.

I think your idea of giving items away and using them to their fullest is a great one.

Now, I might just have to go check out this book...