It's very simple: throw away everything that you don't want or need. Ah, if only it were so. It's taken the better part of a day to go through the stacks of papers and magazines that have been accumulating in the dining room over the past, oh, twelve months. What is it going to take to go through the whole apartment, not to mention the kitchen, so that we can get everything ready for the great Remodeling that is to start in a little over two weeks? And, then, of course, there's the preparations for welcoming our dog, finding a place to put her crate, making sure that the place she is going to play is clear of things that we don't want her chewing on. I want to do this. I really do. Why, then, is it so hard?

Some of the stuff, to be fair, isn't mine. My husband and son tease me about being a pack rat because I carefully archive old magazines and (for reasons known only to those who likewise suffer from this compulsion) even old school notes, but let's be fair, their rooms are just as cluttered as mine, no matter how often I beg them to tidy up. Yes, the closets are full of stuff that I think we still need--coats and old clothes that might be good for costumes or the occasional dinner party, suitcases that we don't use and board games that we don't play--but at least I throw away (most) boxes when they're emptied and I don't bring home old motherboards in the expectation that I might (as my son insisted) "find them useful for some project." And don't even get me started on the Lego!

It could be worse, I know. It could be much, much worse. Compared to some of our neighbors in our building, our apartment is relatively full, but I have colleagues who have stuffed their apartments and houses with more books than anyone could conceivably read in three lifetimes, never mind one. And over the past year, I have even managed to clear out whole shelves of books (mainly mystery novels, thrillers and my son's old picture books), along with bags and bags of old clothes (some, yes, that I had been holding onto since college) and stuffed toys that my son didn't like. I'm regretting some of those toys just at the moment (wouldn't they have been useful for the puppy to play with?), but for the most part, I am relieved. Much as I feel the need to hold onto all of these things, I invariably feel better once they are out of the house.

My head is full right now, making lists of the things I still need to sort through: those stacks of Martha Stewart's Living and the rest of the Yoga Journals really should go, but some of the Yoga Journals are classics, back from before the "new look." Should I really throw them away? I don't need those metal tins that my mother brought in one of her last "clearing-out-your-closet-for-you" trips, but what if I found that I needed just that shape container for something? The basketball that my son doesn't play with, the mitts that my husband and I bought the first summer we were living here so we could play softball with the graduate students, the plastic bowls and plates from when my son was a baby. Really, it should all go and be useful to somebody else. But what if one day we want to play catch? Not that we have for almost fifteen years, but what if?

Yes, I've been watching on-line clips from "Hoarders" this afternoon. We don't have a TV (just a television monitor for watching DVDs, plus, of course, the old cathode-ray tube one that I tried to throw out but my son insisted on keeping, "for parts"), but a fellow yoga student of mine was talking about the program just the other day, and I was intrigued. Oh, how those poor people suffer, not being able to throw even old hair ties away. No, our apartment is nowhere near that bad--but it could be. "There but for the grace of God." I've sat over boxes of stuff just as they have, havering over whether to throw away old candy wrappers from Easter eggs long eaten (I didn't--they're in my bedside table). I know just the arguments they make: "It could be useful. I remember when I got that. But what if I want it later?" And this about things I don't even like. I would like to say that I suffer most over the things that I have that I have been given as gifts but don't actually like and yet can't for all that give away, mathom-like, but it isn't true. I have trouble throwing away stacks of plastic take-away cartons, too.

It's one of the reasons I love hotel rooms so much, I know. Pristine, empty of belongings except those few that I have brought with me. And yet, invariably, I accumulate more (books especially). And then I have to drag all that stuff back home and find places to keep it--because, of course, it could be useful/I might want it/it will help me remember/it was a gift. I am going to do this. I am going to be strong and throw out everything that I don't like and don't want. Everything old and tattered. Everything that I don't have an immediate use for anymore (like, for example, that old dishdrainer that we haven't used since we moved in because we have a dishwasher now. But what if my son could use it when he goes off to college?). Oh, but it is going to be hard, every object a choice. I'm worn out already, and I only just started today.


  1. You're sounding like me again. I spent the day sorting and filing piles of papers. With me, it's New Yorkers and NYT book reviews, along with all sorts of receipts and other stuff that we do need to keep, but don't need to keep in heaps. Only I never seem to have time during the semester to file anything away.

  2. I'll organize an NU history softball team to play you if you can get together a UofC team! See, now the unintended consequence of this post is that people will be scheduling game nights and motherboarding (?) get-togethers with you for the next few months...

  3. I know EXACTLY what you mean about the pristine nature of hotel rooms! It is the same sense I get when I go on an extended research trip. I've rented a room for three months. Everything I 'own' is typically within reach of the bed. I don't have to worry about three floors of house, and particularly not the plumbing, be it toilets or sewer lines. In fact, one of the things I do when I'm worried, feeling really under pressure, or 'scared' is to organize my study. Papers in order. Stacks of books shelved. Hell, even bills filed in their proper spot!

  4. Now there's a whole 'nother blog post: how beginning a writing project always involves tidying first. Once I'm in the midst, papers pile high, books sit open, notes and outlines get scribbled on more or less at random (or as the Muse strikes). But to begin, the desk must be clean and the papers all in order.

    Re: hotel rooms. Did I show you my iPod album of hotel rooms I've stayed in? I find it curiously comforting seeing all those pristine white beds and clean rooms.

  5. This is why I am such a good IKEA customer, buying containers and bins etc, allows me to keep a lot of stuff but at least in an organized way. It's avoiding tossing, but at least it looks nicer than a heap. For the same reason you like hotel rooms I am nearly addicted to interior design/architecture magazines. The problem is that I actually try to (want to) make my house look like the ones in the pics! I often dismiss the knowledge that those pristine interiors in the photographs depict a space not lived in at that moment. Me freaking about clutter drives you know who nuts! So I've had to let go. I too have started watching (as therapy--you know the old oh they are much worse than I am technique) a program here called Super House Wive, where a woman gets called in to go help people who can't find a way out of their clutter. And you know what, most of time in addition to throwing loads away, she buys bins and labels! Good luck.


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