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Posts Tagged ‘Cleaning’

Paid to Purge

I had the blessing today of cleaning out a closet. Normally, I would not see this as a blessing, at least not in my home. But at work, when the belongings were not mine and I was given free reign to designate those things Worthy of Keeping and those things Destined for Dumpsters, I was at my prime.

How freeing it is to purge, whether material or emotional or physical.

The closet was jam-packed with items years old, belonging to people long gone, clothes long-outgrown, and things obsolete.

A casual bystander was young enough not to know what a tape recorder was. While the labeled buttons “play” and “stop” were clear to him, the other buttons, and the mysterious cassette opening, were not, and warranted historic explanation, rendering me a relic.

The headphones with obnoxiously large plugs were equally as mysterious. They would not fit into any iPod known to man today.

There was an avocado-shaded suitcase (remember that color, popular in the 60’s?), with latches no one knew how to operate (but I).

There were broken electronics which no one, over the years, had dared to toss, yet were now completely obsolete.

Long lost items were located, long-forgotten supplies of the eras were unearthed and relegated to their destiny.

The look in the man’s eyes was telling, when he saw that he was about to wax the floors in the room, and I decided to conquer the closet 5 minutes before his crew came to conquer the floor. “You going to try to clear that out, too?” Things teetered near the top shelves and threatened to interrupt our exchange with shifting balance as I hurriedly removed items starting from the lower extremities. “Yes,” I said assuredly, “and if I can just move everything in the hall real quick, it’s all yours.”

He got his men to help with the rest, and before long, the hallway looked like another planet. I never would have known so many things could transform such a small space so compactly…and such a large place, the hall, with such chaos. I enlisted the assistance of Those Who Knew to help separate the current clutter from the true clutter. A few choice insects helped solidify our decision to rid the place of all but the clearly identified items. Select piles helped clarify things, such as “to the dumpster,” “back in closet,” “in the kitchen,” etc.

When it came time to purge, I was suddenly alone. No one wanted to be part and party to seeing things Go. But Go they must, and I heard the ghosts of owners past shudder, as I loaded the Go-things on to a large cart and headed for the dumpster. Three trips it took, each one filled with the satisfaction of knowing that only the necessities were left behind, and that all other things had found appropriate homes, or lost things reunited with their rightful owners.

I was amused to have a small following out to the dumpster, with the few incredulous that anything could be thrown out. When informed of the natural toll time had taken on many of the items (such as six-legged creatures, live during the purging), they backed off and watched with melancholy as I ceremoniously dumped load after load into the bulging dumpsters. Lucky for me, it was trash day, and within minutes, the garbage truck arrived, preventing anyone, myself included, from having second thoughts.

And we were left with an orderly, simplistic closet, with plenty of room for new ideas and time and Stuff.

And everyone felt better afterwards.

Today I got to the end of my lunchtime run and a good song came on my iPod, so I doubled back and took the big hill another time, something I never did before. It was good to purge all that energy, too. I had thought the closet had exhausted me of all my energy…but I suppose I had purging of my own to do.

Don’t we all?

After all, it’s always so much better to get back to simplicity, stripping away the years of clutter and can’t-even-remember-why-stuff.

Starting fresh is what soul renewal is all about…getting back to basics, getting back to your purpose and vision. Simplifying. And that necessitates letting go.

Hey, God…thank you for simple things, for the blessing from clutter, and the growth from purging. For discernment for what is important and vital, and for those things being so few that we have little choice but to focus on You.

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Once upon a very long time ago, I lived in the middle of Nowhere. I’m talking four rambling, adventurous hours away from the nearest Victoria’s Secret, folks. I was carefree and young, my whole life ahead of me, my education behind me (so I thought then), and I was surrounded by miles of rugged vastness, where the most entertaining thing to do was to go cow-tipping at night.

There were only two roads to choose from to get in or out of this place, and half of the time they were either buried under snowdrifts or cluttered with cattle drives. This was indeed the very place in the world where a tree would fall in the forest, and could not be heard. Here, we had to adjust our recipes due to the altitude, and hope for the best. There was no McDonald’s, or, for that matter, anyplace with a drive-thru. You had to know what to do when tumbleweed got caught up under your axles. You had to know how to chop wood to avoid freezing. You had to know how administer first aid because you may or may not be able to get to the nearest hospital before you keeled over. You had to know how to fend off packs of wild animals or the occasional escaped bull trying to break into your bedroom window during a blizzard at night. This was where you could test the limits of your car, and see if it really could go as fast as the speedometer claimed. Yes, this is where I learned to shoot various types of guns, out of necessity and survival, as a young, single lady. This was a different sort of education altogether, one my formal degrees had certainly not prepared me for.

Some people lived here because they either had lived there all their lives and had little desire to know about the rest of the world. Some came and stayed to escape common society, hoping to be left alone. Some followed others, but didn’t last long. And some were there because nobody else was willing to be there.

There, I learned to make do with little, and to be happy with it that way. The sun always rose again, even if I had to wait a week to get to town to get a staple. It was very simple and peaceful. It was easier to appreciate both little and big things, and easier to take care of what I had. I didn’t make much, but I didn’t spend much, either, and life was good that way. I was rich in being able to spend time with things that were far more important, anyway.

I was surrounded by like-minded simplicity: the one outpost “grocery store” was small and well-organized. The church had four pews on either side of the aisle (both collection plate and communion rites were 60-second affairs or less, done deal). The one lady in town who ran a small restaurant could only do so much herself, so the menu was the same throughout the day, and would change tomorrow according to what she had left on hand. We ate a lot of venison there. I learned right away I was not very welcome early in the morning in there, when the elder men of the community gathered for their daily coffee and contemplations. Things kind of got real quiet when I walked in…even the social culture was organized there, making it easy to know your place. And easy to want to stay in your place.

I liked that kind of order and peace.

Fast-forward decades later, living so very far away from that experience: House, spouse, multiple offspring, demands, obligations, not enough hours in the day, the dog, the cat, the endless supply of Small Toy Parts which get sandwiched firmly between brick and bare foot, uncannily most often when the first cup of coffee has been poured at 0445, all is dark, all others slumber, and I am en route to the table. And he wonders how I manage to regularly burn my lower extremities with coffee. I am navigating my path and must endure the melting skin like the Wicked Witch of the West but with no vocalizations, lest I awake the rest of the house and get the party started during what is supposed to be my solo quiet time, my only time of introverted bliss to charge me up for the next 18 hours.

I fantasize about throwing it all away. Why do I put these Small Toy Parts back in the toy box, which have spawned two wicker baskets, one in the den and one in another bedroom? Why didn’t I get rid of more toys? We taught the children to be charitable, and had them donate old toys to make room for new ones, each year. The last time I remember doing that was about eight years ago. The children kept coming, and so did the toys, and somehow we got to a point of realizing how donating one thing (say, the crib and all its linens), was like a jinx, and *boom* another child came along shortly thereafter. So eventually, we started hanging on to stuff – all kinds of stuff – and I got suckered right into his We-Might-Need-This-Someday mentality.

I thought we had settled this early on in the marriage when, much to his chagrin, he soon discovered that he had gained a wife but was losing his marbles, as Things and doo-dads he was sure he thought he had on hand, were mysteriously disappearing with increasing regularity. At first I was truthful and admitted to donating or throwing “useless” things away. Then came the dreaded Turkey Roaster Lecture. Fed up with my fastidiousness, he finally sat me down one day and asked how I’d like it if he tossed my turkey roasting pan, something I only use once or twice a year, but that occupies an obnoxiously large section of kitchen cabinet. Okay, point well-taken.

So I respected his stuff for a while. For quite a few years, actually, until the stuff he had once begged me or even threatened me with dire consequences if I ever threw THAT out, began to  multiply into many things like it, which went untouched, unused, forgotten and buried alive.

Then one day I awoke buried alive, surrounded by clutter. Half of it was the children’s, half of it was his. I was so disturbed, I engaged in vigorous self-harm practices. This soon proved to be futile, and did nothing to alleviate the clutter.

Then I got to work. I alternated between selectively, gradually, making some things quietly disappear after he left for work on garbage day (I write this at my own peril, as this will surely reopen old wounds), and throwing guilt-inducing, mild tantrums to shame him into dumping his own stuff himself. I marveled at how mighty proud he was to excavate six dusty magazines the first time I pulled this, his hands shaking as he threw them away, pausing to consider how he may be parting with the ONE article that may prove the key to saving the world in that fictitious future when the sky is going to fall. He only reclaimed two of them from the trash at the 11th hour, sprinting toward the trash can at the curb as the garbage truck rumbled down the block. He thought it was a big help, four magazines. My idea was a little different; I was thinking about four CRATES of magazines.

Since I can’t give away his stuff overtly (We Might Need This Someday always prevails) or covertly (I suck at lying), I now instead give generously to our local volunteer fire department. I am convinced they will someday be paying us a visit when our attic spontaneously combusts. Perhaps I should also consider paying it forward to the contractor whom we will be calling, should our ceiling cave in prior to combustion.

The problem is, in the years of our marriage, once in a while, the sky DOES fall, and he has squirreled away just the right knick-knack to fix it. Never mind that it takes him damn near a week to find it. Nevertheless, he has saved the day enough times that, like the devil injecting just enough shards of truth into a blatant lie to make it entirely shiny and believable, I am forced to admit that yes, dear, you were right…it was good I didn’t throw that away after all. It really did wind up coming in so very handy, I gush! It hurts to find bad habits actually useful. Back in the day, I would have merrily tossed the broken gizmo and probably not missed it, or would have been more than happy to save for an updated model.

This morning I went on a rampage after all the Small Toy Parts. The children thought I had either lost it or was very close to losing it, the way I determinedly scurried about putting any and every stray Thing in my line of vision in every room, barking orders for each child to take responsibility for handfuls of Things, too.

Among the claimed items tossed back into the toy box and baskets: plastic 1-inch machine gun, fourteen missing puzzle pieces, 17 toy cars, 4 pieces of railroad track,  2 noise-making stuffed animals (one of which has low batteries and emits a very ominous noise that would make Chuckie shudder), a naked baby doll, headless GI Joe, 2 broken Happy Meal toys, long-lost Gumby, the Wii remote we all thought the dog ran away with and buried, a very tangled slinky (why are we keeping this, I ask?! answer: we might untangle it someday…put it in the bathroom, I’ll work on it next time I go), a well-scratched unidentifiable DVD, 7 magnetic refrigerator alphabet letters, the tangled string that keeps coming off the Playskool Snoopy dog that yelps when you pull him along behind you, enough Monopoly money to pay the mafia to off the relatives who keep plying our children with noisy gifts to drive us crazy at every occasion, 3 mystery Things no one could say with any assurance what on earth they went to… and a partridge in a pear tree. There was more, I promise you. Much more. I am blocking out the rest; it is far too painful.

And this is just the inside of the house. Sometimes I think more is less, less is blessed. I am not ungrateful for what we have been blessed with, just overwhelmed. Perhaps this is the unavoidable result of having teenagers through toddlers.  I have made a mental date with the year the youngest turns of age, to return to simplicity. No, it will start long before then: I shall begin to purge the toddler toys in the next couple of years, and work my way up as he works his way up. I will keep all the crap nicely organized – baskets for this crap, boxes for that crap. Hopefully I won’t have to have a skin graft for any more coffee spilled in the dark of the wee hours stepping on yet another Lego.

Thus, as of yesterday morning, I was forbidden to throw away a broken folding chair; never mind that I have determined that throwing things away – no, decluttering – is an act of mental wellness for me. Nosireebob, that canvas, I was urgently informed, can be removed from the metal and “we” can sew it into bags to be used for camping and such. Yeah, right…just after the last child leaves for college and the canvas is growing spores. Then we’ll have time for more camping, too. Perfect. We’ll just toss the ol’ broken chair onto the top of the heap in the attic, no problem. Reminds me of that old sticks-and-marble game, Kerplunk!

(I sure hope somebody else sees the humor in all this, because he may not so easily, and I may be in for an icy week ahead.)

In the meantime, I think I hear the producers of “Hoarders” knocking. I reckon now is a good time to go vacation at my old stomping grounds in the middle of Nowhere while they tape this segment.

On the other hand, maybe I should just stay put…now that I think of it, there’s not a lot of difference between being stuck in the cattle drive and having to wait for it to pass there, and the cattle drive going on here, except this one smells better most of the time, and the cattle stampeding through my house have more fun.

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“God’s gonna hate you for missing the opening prayer, y’know,” the spiteful cyclist spat after me as I turned away from him to go into church this morning.

Hey, God…I know You hate some things; You say so in the Bible…but I have trouble believing that my being late because I stopped to let the man yell at me, could make me the target of Your hate. Besides, there was no opening prayer. In hindsight, I should have invited him to come in with me, and we could be late together, and let You sort it all out. Maybe there were more reasons than met the eye that he chased me all that way up that hill on his bike. That was a big hill, too. I thought he and his cyclist partner finally got over to the right side of the road so I could pass, but they evidently were not happy with me passing at all, even though I went slowly and tried to give them extra room. I’ve chased other people to church before for various reasons, but I’ve never been chased before. He really needed to get a few things off his chest, I guess. Glad I didn’t say much. Sorry if I missed a golden opportunity, though.

But there I was, absorbed in a religious experience with the Rolling Stones, as I set out this morning to meet You. “Pride and joy and greed and sex…and look at me, I’m in tatters.” I was thinking, you know, we’re not too far off from that, our human condition…all the things that get in our way of focusing on You, of acquiring a better command of self-control, that we might know You better.

There was no hiding being late from the Nice People, no sneaking in quietly and hiding in the back pew, nosirree Bob. The early service was held in the chapel instead of the main sanctuary, and, typical to arriving 5 minutes late anywhere, there was little left save the front pew and a tiny spot halfway up between three Nice People who looked like they’d gone there all their lives. I was horrified to discover before I hit the door, a Greeter Gorilla who came out to fetch me. “I was going to bring you in…we’re in the chapel this morning,” he gently said. Sheesh, he probably witnessed the Chase, and wondered how it turned out. I was grateful for an escort, still trying to analyze the previous experience. I picked the cozy spot sandwiched between the Nice People. It was more comforting than the empty front pew.

So then You spoke to me again, showing me that it didn’t really matter where I go or how I got to You, the important thing was coming before You. Granted it was a stretch for me, after the Chase, to clear my head and clean house before communion; I did my best under the circumstances. Isn’t that all You ask? I did not feel like one of the Nice People. I did not have Nice Thoughts in my head, nor was I able to focus well on the chitter-chatter-chitter-chatter…”I’m in tatters.” Uh huh. She-doo-be.

Refreshments were not on my post-churchey agenda today. I did what any self-respecting person in tatters would do, and I proceeded directly to the store and took it as a sign from You that my favorite ice cream, Chocolate Trinity (hmmm…another sign), was on sale. Anything but holy today, I was quite certain that a double dip of church and Chocolate Trinity ought to do the trick and restore my soul.

Wanting to redeem myself in advance of premeditated culinary sin, I went for a long run when I got home. I thought this, too, might shake off the post-haunting of the Chase, but no. The humidity was wonderfully oppressive, the mercury was well into the 90s, and the only thing I was able to shake off, besides a few calories, was the residual headache from the Mocker I met the night before. I hadn’t expected to come face to face with another one on my way into church.

Now in physical tatters, dripping in sweat and adrenaline but still feeling slightly rattled, there was only one way to seize control altogether. It was time to conquer the toaster. There are few other household cleaning jobs more satisfying than purging one’s toaster of the crumbs which seem to multiply like sins and remain nicely unseen for extended periods. And, like sin, the toaster contains them neatly, with a few here or there falling out underneath that a quick swipe of the counter each day keeps in check, with no one knowing or seeing.

Some of the crumbs are teeny-tiny, some are blackened to a crisp and unrecognizable, and some come in big chunks that make you wonder how you’ve been able to make toast without causing a major conflagration. And I like the handy little tray that tries, usually unsuccessfully, to contain the crumbs. Kind of like my head. If I keep ’em in check, I can hang on to them, throw them out at will, maybe just get the big chunks if that’s all I have time for or will to manage at that time. Then there are the derelict crumbs which get caught in the toaster itself, which requires derelict measures to extract it, such as operating with a knife. I wasn’t the kid cited in Kindergarten for running with scissors, I was the kid sticking a knife in the toaster. That monster crumb just had to go. At least my mother’s admonition to make sure it was unplugged, safely carried me into adulthood.

I went to town on this thing, dumping the crumb-catcher, shaking the toaster upside down, peering into the openings with my menacing knife. Big crumbs, little crumbs, stuck crumbs, burnt crumbs, they all came tumbling out, and eventually I achieved Law and Order of the Toaster. Only then did I feel resolved about things, and was ready to enjoy my gleaming toaster for a short period before I sully it again by making more crumbs.

God, I can’t help but make crumbs. Such is human existence, I suppose. The toast must be made, but in doing so, so are the crumbs. No wonder You ask us to clean out our toasters from time to time. It is the only way to prevent a disaster in the kitchen You have provided for us.

And if You tell me where I might find that angry man, maybe I can commune with him over a half-gallon of Chocolate Trinity. Heck, maybe I’ll just bring two spoons and we can eat directly out of the carton and clean out our toasters, together in harmony.

She-doo-be.

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