cleaning/purging excess stuff


2007

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Because I was a teacher, I’ve never really gone off the school calendar. My year begins when school resumes in late August. I have longer weekends nearly every month and life is regularly interrupted by early out days, oddly placed vacations and the occasional night duty.

So when everyone else (and by that I mean normal adults with real jobs) were heading back to work after January 1st, I was still in “off” mode because Dee had another week of Christmas vacation to go.

Today, however, she is back to school and Rob is back to work and I am officially beginning 2012 with a schedule of my own, which includes 3 nights of teaching yoga, one night of soccer, one late afternoon running of the child to her own yoga class and two yoga classes of my own to attend. Monday thru Friday is beyond packed and the margin for error or the unexpected is slim to none.

But you still have the weekends, I hear you thinking. A long one at that. This is true. Aside from soccer practice on Saturday mornings, the weekends are blissfully free of obligation. Happy Year of the Dragon to me.

The only thing I have not settled on is my writing focus, but that’s hardly new. I am leaning towards going back to fiction and the memoir. I like Abel’s idea for a theme for the latter and my e-copy of Game of Thrones has made me nostalgic for fantasy. Some of the first good fiction I wrote was fantasy because that’s primarily what I was reading at the time.

I will say that I have lost the fire for freelance. The class I took in the fall was a good experience. I learned a lot. I discovered, however, that I still dislike journalism. Essays and opinion pieces suit me much better. And, I am still burnt out on activist political posting. The world has become such a sad, dirty place in terms of politics and issues that I think it’s bad for my soul and not all that good for karma to immerse myself in that kind of writing at this time. I don’t need the extra negativity. I have family for that.

I have a couple more things to say about widowhood, dating and remarriage though but I am still running them around the track in my mind’s eye.

Last thing on the agenda is organization. It’s past time for the next great purge and there are a few legal things that need to be taken care of in addition to the fact that the house is screaming for all things to find a place and just stay there – no more musical chairs.

Did I just make resolutions? Good gods!


Yard Sale Northern California May 2005. This i...

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Just before we left for our pseudo holiday in B.C., we participated in the hamlet’s every other year garage sale. Our community is small but we are tied together through the Ag Society, which organizes events and whatnot for us. They are responsible for my teaching yoga at the community hall from October until early spring. They put on a chicken supper to kick off the start of summer and make it possible for locals to use the ice arena for free every Sunday afternoon during hockey season.

In 2009, someone had the idea for a community wide garage sale. It took place on Rob’s birthday that year. His worst birthday ever. But in terms of helping emptying our home and putting us on the road to one day be free of the shadow of hoarder house status – it was a great success.

I have been purging the nooks, crannies and closets of excess stuff since the spring of 2010*. We’d thought to have a garage sale on our own last August, but that heart attack thing prevented it, so this year when the community sale loomed, we had several seasons worth of clothing and more cast off stuff from the renovation purge than we would have normally.

The new kitchen proceeds at a steady if not quite “done” done pace, and as I emptied cabinets and drawers from the old kitchen, a fair amount of items didn’t make the cut for inclusion in the new space. The ball bounces that way sometimes.

Fare and Mick were invited out to sift through things before the sale and after. More stuff was off-loaded.

One thing I discovered in the process is that the basement storage room has more in it than I thought. Or Rob thought. He’d been on the opinion that most of what was left was ours – his and mine. Not so. Things he thought the older girls had taken with their childhood things and anything of their mother’s that had value or meaning. Not so.

When Mick came after the garage sale to pick through the leavings of the hordes, she and Rob searched the storage room for a box containing Shelley’s writings.

She was a writer too.

Mick is as well and wanted to see some of her mother’s efforts and share them with her boyfriend, Dare.

But while the box proved elusive, several others surfaced. One was filled with keepsake shirts and another inexplicably held shoes.

“We should plan to spend a bit of time rummaging through down here over Thanksgiving,” I told Mick.

I bring up stuff again only because we all acquire it over the course of simply being alive. Dee’s room is near hoarder status – a trait she unfortunately comes by via the genetic gifting of her late father’s mother – a woman worthy of reality tv intervention. Rob’s stash (which reminds me totally of my own father) is based on the idea that someday he might need something he’s given away. A primitive affliction he got from his mother, whose constant mantra while we helped her pack was “you never know when you might need something some day.”

I am beginning to lean towards the theory that the “hoarding” of dead people’s stuff , however, is based on the fact that we no longer bury their stuff with them. Keeping it in boxes and drawers is the modern version of the Egyptian pyramid tombs.

But, the accumulation of things could just as likely be an outgrowth of the idea that memory is tangible, and objects are infused with them. It’s like a 3D photograph, whose effect is just as fleeting as thumbing through a photo album or watching a video of times gone by. The memory jarred to life is held inside us and the external catalyst just reminds us that it is there all the time, and we’d forgotten about it. The guilt of living in the present compels us to save items that take up space in the dark places of our closets and basements, still forgotten really until the next accidental discovery.

*The reality is that purging has been an ongoing thing for both Rob and I since 2007, individually and as a couple. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever be clutter-fuck free.


Compulsive hoarding in a private apartment

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I am a purger extraordinaire. Nary a sentimental bone in my body. About the only thing I have difficulty shedding is paper. My desk and more than a few boxes can attest to the fact that I loathe chucking my own words or any scrap of paper that relates to anything I think might come back and thump me if I can’t produce it. The former is a side-effect of being a writer, and the latter stems in part from my father’s training concerning finances and record-keeping but more from the days of care-taking during my late husband’s illness. Between Medicaid and Social Security, keeping a paper trail become a bit of a mantra.

Where stuff is concerned though I am stone cold. Clothes in particular should be gifted, garage-saled or donated with merciless regularity. I don’t understand hanging on to apparel that you don’t wear and are unlikely to ever wear again unless you should find yourself suddenly thrust into an ice age survival scenario that requires you to don as many articles of clothing as possible.

My sister, DNOS, has a closet containing clothing from every era of her life . Acid washed jeans, Flash Dance sweatshirts and probably jelly shoes. There are articles of clothing in her possession that I gifted to her when I left college … in 1987. She comes by this as my daughter does – paternally. Our father kept dress clothing until the fabric was shiny and nearly transparent.

Recently, we helped Rob’s mom pack up her home for her move south. Boxes of things that hadn’t seen the light of day since her last move four years ago, were taken from their current area of limbo and packed into boxes that will eventually dump them in some new Twilight Zone space in Arizona.

Perhaps I am missing something but how important can something be if it’s primary residence is storage, and you only think about it on the occasion of moving it from one residence to another?

Because that’s the reality of most possessions. Think about all those dimly to not at all lit spaces in your home where stuff resides like residents of the Island of Misfit Toys.

The oldest daughter, Fare, reclaimed her childhood from the basement storage not long ago. Books, school records and stuffies.

“She says she’s keeping it for the children she wants to have,” Mick told me.

“You should tell her that there is maybe one thing I saved from my childhood that Dee ever glanced at more than once,” I said though that’s not quite true. She played with my first Barbie as a tub toy until the mold got it and my Malibu Skipper currently enjoys second youngest daughter status with the family of dolls currently residing in the doll mansion Rob built for her.

But Murphy’s Rule of Saving One’s Childhood Crap for Your Own Children states: they will ignore, hate or break the stuff. All of these things will make you regret having sired or birthed them in the moments afterward when you are cleaning up the remnants of your memories and tossing them – instead of your child – into the trash (though you may briefly consider mending the object and tossing the child).


Garage sale

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Spent some time purging drawers and closets in anticipation of the hamlet-wide garage sale later this summer.

Dee has outgrown nearly everything, which caught me off guard because normally I shop for her every other year. She’s put on exactly zero pounds but shot up an inch-ish or better. It’s all legs. Devilish hard to fit the child’s waist. Girls’ clothing these days are vanity sized and reflect the chunkier body types that have resulted from our processed food/low-level of energy lifestyles. Dee is not the shortest kid in her class anymore, but she’s got a Scarlett O’Hara waist compared to nearly all of her peers. Tiny waist and coltish legs spells difficulty in sizing her, so just about every pair of pants I got her back in late February are now floodies and still a tad too big around her waist. Hobbit-legged and thick-middled, the girl ain’t.

I rummaged and purged my own rather meager collection of apparel myself, sticking slavishly to the rule that “if it hasn’t been worn in a year, its history”. I continue to pride myself on the fact that every article of clothing I own could be neatly packed into a large Rubbermaid tote should the need arise.

All this pro-activeness called to mind the agony of purging and packing for the move to Canada before Rob and I married back in June of 2007. In fact four years ago yesterday, we left Des Moines behind.

I sometimes miss the idea of that house.  The openness and space. Some of what we’ve done in our recent renovations replicates it in a way, but we are far from done and even farther from achieving liberation from boxes of packed away stuff that is never thought of much less in danger of every being used again.

Over lunch today, Rob ruefully expressed what he called his “buyer’s remorse” about the renovation project that never ends. Selling and buying new, however, was never an option. Real estate around here is overpriced and much of the newer stuff is poorly constructed. For a little bit of debt, we can create spaces in our existing home that will more than suit as opposed to taking on the monumental debt of a brand new mortgage for what amounts to overvalued real estate on a prairie that is downwind of various petrochemical plants. It’s somewhat of a no brainer.

It’s doesn’t make the process less cumbersome or tiring.

The last time I purged a house, it was slash and burn. Goodwill, friends and friends/relatives of friends benefited tremendously from my zeal to simply lighten my load. I gave away more than I sold and simply threw away everything else. And with only the occasional exception (it would have been nice to have kept that Pampered Chef pizza cutter because the one I have now bites in comparison), I haven’t missed anything.

That’s the thing about stuff that most people can’t wrap their minds around – it honestly won’t be missed once you are able to pry your fingers loose of it. In all likelihood, you will never waste another thought on it again.

I toy with the idea of just getting a waste-bin  delivered and just have a chuckfest. But, of course, I won’t. A lot of what constitutes clutter isn’t mine, and though I am convinced that it would be years – if ever – that anyone would ask after the departed items, I respect the fact that what I deem useless and spent embodies something important for others.

Accumulation of stuff seems to be a condition of life – unless one is a monk of some kind. Renunciates are what they are called in yoga. Renunciates eschew things in an effort to seek the balance between living in a physical world without placing too much attachment on it while Householders do the opposite while still being expected to rise above it all. I think the latter is the more difficult. Having fewer things, as I have learned, spoils a person. The more room I acquire the less I want to fill it up. The more stuff one has, the harder it is to decide what’s necessary and the greater the likelihood that one won’t recognize the tribble like nature of stuff. Stuff breeds because it feeds want.

Too much stuff blinds us as well because it fairly demands that we attach value – monetary and emotional – to it, making it harder to get rid of and easier to let pile up in one way or another.

I suspect I will spend the better part of the rest of my life waging a quiet war of attrition with clutter and accumulation. Most days I am zen about that but today it’s raining and cold and my hair is frizzy. Not that this has any bearing, mind you, and I have just been thinking  – again – about how to lighten Rob’s load without any success. Maybe banana bread and cookies? At least that’s not permanent clutter.


Coat of arms of The District of Summerland

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Summerland, British Columbia is a place that’s name says it all. It’s a place that lives in the warm months and hibernates the rest of the time. Orchards and vineyards dot the landscape. Fruit stand every 100 metres and wineries nestled in any available nook or cranny.

Sitting along Lake Okanagan between another aptly named town, Peachland, and the retirement/summer playground of Penticton, I’ve only really seen summer there once. Most of our visits have occurred during late fall or winter when brown colours and cold air dominate, and even the local inhabitants seem to have snuggled in like bears for the duration.

In an attempt to make our hastily scheduled trip for G and G’s wedding more of a get-away than an obligation, Rob booked us into one of the nicer resorts on the lake, a place that is cost prohibitive in the high summer season.

Whenever possible we go for the suite option because it allows us all some space and Dee is no different from Rob and I in needing space.

It was a lovely set-up. One of the nicest kitchens I have ever seen in a suite with a full range, large fridge and a dishwasher. The cabinets were fully stocked with any type of dishware, pot/pan or utensil if cooking was a must, and the bath had separate tub/shower and an awesome vanity that stretched nearly the length of the room with an equal sized mirror and under the vanity a light that was motion sensitive for night-time use.

It also came equipped with two televisions.

TV is one of those weird things that while I don’t miss not having it on a daily basis, I do tend to check out when we travel.

Mostly, I channel surf. A few minutes here, twenty minutes there or just flipping at the speed of sound. I seldom watch anything from beginning to end because nothing is captivating or creative enough to compel me to do so.  And so much of it is horrifying anyway.

It appears that most television is some sort of reality themed show where the objective is to find the most objectionable representatives of humanity to showcase for entertainment purposes.  One such show – which I had no idea existed or that there were people in the world desperate enough for attention to agree to be a part of – is called Hoarders.

Part extreme intervention with a touch of home improvement via organizing, the show finds people who are steps beyond an Oprah moment in an attempt to help them reclaim their homes from mountains of crap and possibly direct them toward mental health services. The latter is, I suppose, noble. Every person they highlighted had severe OCD in addition to an alphabet soup of other issues ranging from personality disorders to dysfunctional family or intimate relationship problems.

I couldn’t watch more than 10 minutes or so at a time, but I kept coming back to it in my meandering in the same why you’d like to not look at the accident on the side of the road but you slow down, block traffic and size it up anyway.

The houses were nightmares. Not an inch of bare floor with all manner of items piled and mixed with garbage. Most of the people had animals, which totally contributed to the unsanitary conditions with their food and waste droppings.

One woman had two small children whose rooms she took over to store her “stuff” which forced one to sleep with her because his bed had disappeared and her daughter to sleep on the floor with her Dad in a child’s size sleeping bag. She was the one who thought there was nothing wrong with cat crap on the kitchen floor and a fridge stuffed with rotting food. Rotting. And she got all up and snarky when the psychologist insisted that she clean it out herself to see what was in it and understand why it was a hazard to her kids.

And that lady wasn’t the worst one the show highlighted.

“We need to clean,” I told Rob as we watched.

“We are not that bad,” he replied.

“Yet,” I countered as I thought about the box of cards I have yet to sort and Dee’s desk in the office which is the repository of anything that doesn’t have a home.

Granted. We are short on space because of the renovation. But the storage room in the basement, which we were able to walk through in the summer is now impassable and I can totally see how people can allow clutter to become hoarding, which flows like lava through the house, solidifying and turning to the emotional equivalent of stone.

My dad was a minor hoarder of tools, car parts and paper, but I didn’t grow up in a house where the floor disappeared for extended periods of time or the sink choked on dirty dishes until we were eating off paper plates. Even the rooms of my siblings and I never reached tornado strewn disaster level like Dee’s does though she isn’t as bad as she was when she was little.

She inherits her laissez faire attitude from her late father, who grew up with a hoarder mother.

One of the issues between my former mother-in-law and I was the perpetual filth and growing mounds of “stuff” in her home. By the time Will got sick, I wouldn’t even sit down when I visited – often because there was no place to sit – but mostly because the house was disgusting.

The dog, which wasn’t even hers, destroyed her backyard to the point that the neighbors were forever calling the city on her in the summer when the smell radiated to street side. When he died in the garage after days of bloody diarrhea and vomiting – she never cleaned it up. It dried and flaked off and as far as I know when the new owners began their renovation (it had to be completely gutted) that mess was still a giant crusted stain on the concrete.

Rob’s sister is a hoarder. The authorities eventually removed her teenage daughter and the girl, who is now a sixteen year old mother, is not allowed to move back in if she wants to retain custody of her son. It’s that bad.

My mother-in-law has a bit of a stuff issue too, but not to the point where her home is dirty. There are too many possession and no space, and one has to wonder why a person needs so much when it sits in closets, drawers and cabinets never to be used and probably often forgotten about.

TV is bad, but ultimately this foray into the kind of voyeurism that makes one want to use a wetwipe on her brain and scrub her eyeballs has renewed my purging purpose.


As I organize, and I am using the term rather loosely at the moment, I run into the perpetual issue of cards.

Birthday cards. Valentine’s wishes. Christmas greetings. Sympathy noted. Wedding congratulations. Merely thinking about you missives.

Cards coming out the ying-yang here and some going back years.

I even have a gift sack full of sympathy cards from my late husband’s visitation that I ransacked for cash and abandoned – unread for the most part and most definitely never responded to. Cue Miss Manners her tongue cluck.

“What should I do with them?” I asked Rob. “Someone paid money for them.”

I think it’s the money spent that stops my hand at the shredder more than the thoughts or motives behind the mailing of them.

Not long ago, I bought a mess of the darn things myself at the grocery. Summer birthday wishes and Father’s Day.

“Look at these!” exclaimed the cashier. “Cards! I haven’t checked any through in I can’t remember when. People just don’t send this stuff anymore.”

I felt like a relic. An antique who hordes them as well as perpetuates their tribble like accumulation in society.

“Well,” Rob said in response to my query, “I can’t help you. I have a bunch of yours myself.”

Now I am slightly offended. Of course you have mine!

“I keep yours!”

“Why?”

“Because you gave them to me and you wrote little notes in them,” I said, snuggling under his chin.

And there is the crux of the matter.

I keep cards and notes of those I hold dear and consider the paperstock of others to be no better than unsolicited junk mail.

However, I can’t keep every card that is sent to me, my daughter or Rob and I. There is an “enough” point and I have reached it. The problem is to avoid the whole “guilt” thing. And it’s tricky.

For example, I feel not the tiniest bit of guilt for not responding to the sympathy cards that are sitting still in that sack, but I feel guilt about throwing them away. The cards themselves mean nothing, but the reason they were sent does. Therefore, the cards endure long after they should have been recycled.

The idiocy of this is not lost on me because not only did I keep them but fifteen months after the fact, I packed them and transported them to another country, where they continue to not be replied to or looked at or do anything other than take up valuable space. Space that is premium – as all space is.

The same can be said of paper in general. We keep far more than is necessary. I have two file folders full of the daily reports that Dee’s daycare kept, recording what she ate, when she slept, and anything of note. I have nearly three years worth of these reports.

Why? Because I stopped journaling her daily activities at the end of the first year. Un-coincidentally this is when her father took quite ill. In my mind, the reports are part of her “baby” record. I was too preoccupied to keep obsessive track of her “firsts” and thought I would go back later and scan the reports for highlights and compile them.

Dee is eight years old. The reports are still in a file cabinet – which also traveled internationally .

The madness!

“I just want to rent a dumpster and pitch everything in without stopping to look at it,” I told Rob.

“Okay,” he agreed. “Let’s.”

It’s not really that irrational a solution. I have, after all, purged an entire house of possessions. Literally given away thousands of dollars in furnishings, clothes and household goods without really blinking or looking back in angst. It’s not so silly an idea.

What is it about paper? Whether it’s words or photos, it’s so much harder to part with.


I got nothing people. The last two weeks I have barely been able to squeeze in writing time between the family issues and the March to the Garage Sale.

The upside is that the garage is clean. Drive a car in and park it clean. All the junk that was not sold was swiftly transported to Goodwill (don’t fret – it was good junk) and the stuff they wouldn’t take went to the dump. 

We made two dump runs and two Goodwill trips and as a result, we can walk through every room in the basement now too.

However this left precious little time for blogging, commenting on blogs (sorry) or writing in general. Not good because I get antsy when I am not writing. Also not good because I have a new contributing writing gig on another blog that I need to get started on. It’s a sweet little site and I have a shot at pieces being picked up by a news service for posting on their site too. But I gotta get on it this week as well as get back to regular contributing at Moms Speak Up.

As wonderful as a crap-less house is it will not impress publishers. Will it? No, no, of course not. It’s words on a page, stupid.

I promise to get my pictorial on the garage sale up this afternoon or tomorrow, but in the meantime, let’s share stories about how life interferes  with the lives we imagine who would like to lead. Post here or link back.