Involving other folks whose involvement is essential

My old friend is closing up the house in which her children grew up.  There are timetables she must honor which do not fit the inclinations and schedules of her far-flung offspring.  But she’s a resourceful mother well-accustomed to forging excellent compromises with them.

I think the most wonderful example of this I witnessed was her walk through the house with a pack of post-it notes and her laptop connected to Skype, while her youngest looked over the furniture and made decisions from halfway across the country about what he wanted to keep. They’d already figured out the bit about moving the stuff to storage until it can be transferred.

Recently I ran into another friend whose mother is a bit of a packrat.  This friend is experienced at calming frantic professionals (me, not the least of them) while solving their technical problems.  She couldn’t wait to tell me how she had finally worked out the way to deal with her mother’s clutter.  “You can put this in your blog!” she exclaimed.

She recognized that her mother could only concentrate on sorting for short short periods, half an hour or less, and only with her participation, so she began to make little trips over to sort through memories.  But then the questions was how to get her mother to agree to let anything go, quite another issue…

…until my friend hit upon the phrase, “Oh!  That would work really well over at MY house!”  Immediately her mother would happily release the item (and we may all imagine, although perhaps it’s best not to say out loud, what happened after it arrived at my friend’s house.)

But my excited friend went on to relate that after many of these trips down memory lane, one day she found that her mother had pulled out a box and begun to sort through it on her own.  That was a day for the record books!

My own experience…  After months of watching me sort the clutter left by folks who’ve passed on, my husband (who, without a word of complaint, and some expressions of delight, has been moving all the boxes and bags of already sorted stuff out of the house for me) began to take responsibility for the sorting he needs to do himself.

“One box a day,” he decreed a few weeks ago, “At a fixed time every morning.”  And he remains faithful to this commitment.

So we must be willing to work alongside them.  We have to make allowances for their availability.  We must honor their attention spans. We must exercise exquisite patience!  But once they have tasted life in bright, open, cleared spaces the folks who need to be involved do begin to get into the game.


Summer Solstice 2016

It makes a mess, this decluttering.

You have to pull stuff out of wherever it’s been, look at it, decide about it, then stash it somewhere until it’s time to dispose of it.  There’s dust involved, and sometimes mold or larvae or…

It’s a decision indeed to tackle a cluttered house by spreading a mess all over the uncluttered surfaces; especially when you know it’ll all have to be cleared off again by supper time.

I thought about this while sitting in a line of stopped car ovens idling in the broiling brilliance of the summer sun.  Heavy logging equipment was dealing with a drought-killed (last year) grove of sugar pines whose carcasses threaten power lines and access routes.

Miserable and irritated as I might have been, visions of imprisonment by those inflamed skeletons during future fires served to release my tension.

Decluttering is hard, inconvenient, and messy.  On the other hand, unaddressed clutter may very well find a way to take care of itself in ways you’d rather it wouldn’t.


Mama Tried to Steer Me Better… (thanks, Merle Haggard, for putting things in perspective!)


So…  Ploughing through the dust and mold of the back storage area, I wonder wearily, “why, Why, WHY does anyone shove a box of stuff NOBODY is EVER GOING to Ever Ever Ever use into storage?”  Stuff, my friends, that could have been discarded years earlier.  Especially since the folks who once might have used it are long gone.

For an answer, put the needle on the old old wail of a two-year-old, “I Don’t WANNA.”  Because deep inside we are all Mama’s Only Rebel Child….

As I wondered, Why On Earth Anyone would shove a box full of old pickle jars full of school paint into a corner of under-house storage and leave them there to ossify…

I came to believe that storage areas are the last battlegrounds defended by our inner two-year-olds.

That box of a dozen horrid, stuck-shut jars of half-congealed school….

Have NOTHING to do with Sentiment (the boxes full of handmade Christmas ornaments fall into that category),
NOTHING to do with Possible Future Usefulness (that box full of “someday these will be antiques and then we can sell them” falls into that category),
NOTHING to do with Overwhelm (the box full of all the whatevers they give you at the hospital after you have had surgery might fall into that category)

BUT …..

EVERYTHING to do with I Don’t Wanna Hafta Clean Up My Room (after THEY Made that Mess, anyway.)

So.  Shove it all under the bed (house) and believe that nobody will notice.

Rejoice that because now you’re an adult and Mama is not going to show up, lift the bedspread, ignore your kicking and screaming (and lengthy rationalizations about how This Isn’t The Best Use of Your Time), and make you deal with it.  (“No one could steer me right, but Mama TRIED…”)

But.  Without her, you are going to end up doing Life Without Parole, imprisoned in all that stuff no matter WHO generated it.

Unless, maybe, you get lucky and someone brings a file, shows you how you can saw through your chains, and you start to get the idea to free yourself…

The photo is of all the boxes of stuff I found (besides those paints) that local craftswomen are willing to take from me.  And of my packing supervisor….

Thanks to the Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally Band who performed Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” during their awesome show at the Cozmic Café in Placerville, CA; June 17, 2016…  You put those thoughts into my head and now they’ve found a home!

Where did it all come from?

A fellow declutterer asked me what I thought about how all this stuff accumulates.  Funny.  I’d just been rambling on about this with another declutterer …

On the one hand, there’s the legacy of our Depression Era forebears.  Don’t Throw Anything Away.  Ever.  Someday We Will Need It !

And so the mountains: balls of string, pencil ends, paperclips, old newspapers,  used wrapping paper, plastic bags, moth-eaten sweaters, archaic baby furniture….

Then there’s the legacy of post-depression affluence and protection against being “robbed by the fountain pen.”  Crates and crates of proof: bank statements, tax forms, insurance policies, medical claim forms, stock transfers, receipts from major purchases…  (Should we keep this stuff for one, five, seven, twenty years?  Just keep it all for when THEY come asking.)

But what about us?  What about the post-post-Depression generation?  The post-paper age?  The age, friends, of planned obsolescence…

We have an old computer.  I mean like almost ENIAC old…  Well, not quite.

It’s an old Mac.  And it has some neat old software that might just fit the bill again someday.  Hey… (Thinking of analogue turntables!!!) this thing might answer a freshly remembered need thirty years down the line.  Or there’s the call of eBay….

That’s all an update on the familiar Don’t Ever Throw Anything Away loop.

But suppose we were to decide that we absolutely didn’t want this computer anymore, we have no room for it in our home, our newer ones completely answer all our computing needs, nobody is going to be interested in this computer ever again during our lifetime, it has become the bit of string begging a robin to weave it into its new nest.

Uh Oh!!!!!

A computer can’t be let loose in the back yard or set out with the trash.  Because: ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION.  (And to take it to the dump costs money.  And they only take that stuff on certain days.)  It’s So Much Easier to park it in a corner and forget about it.

Isn’t that the same with just about all the stuff lying around in corners now these days?  Almost everything since the advent of batteries?

But there’s another thing about computers, televisions, hair dryers, eight-track players, roombas, graphing calculators, cell phones and vibrating loungers….

It’s just plain hard to say goodbye to the magical stuff that brought wonder, delight, comfort, and ease to our lives.  Especially the stuff that cracked open new horizons.  We loved all of it and we associate these tools with feeling happy and powerful.  Those feelings do not evaporate easily, after we upgrade to newer, faster, lighter, more durable, more versatile models.  Anybody remember having to say goodbye to their first car?

(Isn’t that forty year old crate of college textbooks — all the ones we didn’t ceremonially burn or quickly sell back — a badge of achievement?  I still have my third edition Larson and Hostetler.  And the student solutions manual…)

AT THIS TIME, a poem by Vincent Spina

Vincent Spina, friend, retired Associate Professor and poet, gave his friends this poem today along with permission to post it here.

I offer it as balm to all who face memories of departed loved ones and fading dreams while you tackle the dispersal of mountains of stuff.  At the end of this post I will share some of what I wrote in response.

AT THIS TIME — by Vincent Spina

News has reached us, Ladies and Gentlemen
—midnight travelers and uneasy risers, sus-
pended between moments of sleep and waking—
and it is our pleasure to bring mind-scraps

of old home-sites, dimly remembered and all
those who shared with you (be they friends or family,
living or dead) so that you may sing a song
or two, toast a home-run or Hail Mary pass,

recall past loves that may or never have been,
moves to up-and-coming apartments, home-
comings, promotions, and ideas never
thought before, as if time had been sloughed off

like the skin of a tiny green lizard, red
dewlap flapping like a flag, and all that
remains of you, as if stored in a chest of
open drawers that now appears before you

with no need to stress recollection, for
the chest is soon recognized and invites
you to wander through all its detritus
—the used and unused spools of colored threads,

rubber bands rolled in tidy balls, paper clips
…and old hunting knife…scraps of letters in
a language not used anymore, some not sent
or if received, best left unread, and a scent

of lavender and old clothe as if all
had been saved by an old woman, left
stranded in a new land, homesick for what
may never have been—and now this very search

—jewel in itself—the finding or never
finding becomes all one: a magic carpet
of vital clues as to where you are and
who you are…and the moment suspends you

as if swimming in a cradle of tides,
head down on the left stroke, lifted to breathe
on the right stroke, when an unforeseen wave
catches you hard in the face, yet you

survive for now, revive your breathing
and the chest of drawers and its contents
fades and your mind, though not fully awake,
digs deeply into itself, finds its bedrock

of illusions at this insult of morning,
discards the threads, the clips and rubber bands
—dust puffs of old joys and regrets.

Then silence.
And the waves breaking on another beach.

“Dear Vince,
I had trouble reading your poem because the images in my mind got so loud and strong they thundered over your rhythmic words.
I have been digging through and sorting out stored material minutiae, the residue of my husband’s thirty-seven year first marriage which were crammed into storage while the loss of his wife was too painful to face.
In this poem, you have captured the sweetness, the confusion, the grief, the love, the very difficult dawning realization of the illusiveness of permanence…”

Meanwhile folks, if this poem touches you as much as it touched me, you may also be interested in Vincent’s book of poetry,  Dialogue, available through Amazon:


Broaching Deep Storage …..

It’s not so easy to write about decluttering when I’m in the middle of doing it.

Earlier this month I spent a couple of weeks away from home helping a friend prepare to put her farm on the market by sorting through a garage full of stored stuff left behind by her grown children and departed husband and in-laws.  It was hard, concentrated work, a different sort of decluttering because none of the stuff was in any way mine.  My sorting decisions had to be definitive but very conservative.  My accomplishment was to have sorted the contents of that garage into piles: Donate, Recycle, Offer to friends, Requires Family Decision.  She rented a dumpster for outright trash…

I arrived home exhausted just three days before our village fire department’s rummage sale fund-raiser.  The American Declutterer’s decree, Opportunities to Declutter Must Never be Passed Over, held.  My husband found three boxes of stuff and two old chairs to donate to this community effort.

And with that, the third round of my decluttering of our home began.

This third round is no longer about working to free up the living spaces or to make room for scheduled furniture deliveries.  By now our living spaces are filled only with things we actually love and use.  This time my objective is to tackle the three deep storage areas which are all stuffed full of untended history.

Today I ventured down to the most accessible of these areas and unearthed five substantial cartons of books of all sorts — some from college course taken fifty years ago; another box of old clothes; a box containing eight large spindles of an unfamiliar kind of yarn in various shades of yellow; a jumble of bent, broken, tarnished, dirty and cracked kitchen implements and Tupperware which spilled all over the place when its box disintegrated; and a box neatly labelled “bubble paper.”  It did indeed contain nothing but used bubble wrap.

Today’s rhetorical question is WHY on God’s green earth do people fill Deep Storage with stuff that time will ruin, or that was ruined in the first place, or that can serve no earthly purpose while sitting in a dark place for decades?  I know.  I know.  It was once precious.  Someday it might be needed.  And face it.  Very few people have compassion on the somebody who is going to have to deal with that mountain after they are gone.

Treasures in the Trash

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt…” (Matthew 6:19)

That, my friends, (Matthew 6:19a) is my current motto.  I’ve been working in a damp garage.  In the garage, alongside the riding mower, are three sturdy wooden boxes, each of which once shipped an adult-sized coffin, so, three coffin coffins, if you will….

l was set to learn what had been stored in them and deal with it.  First lesson, damp and mold.  Second lesson, dead mice and their nests; third, insect larvae.  These creatures had lodged themselves in and among numerous cartons of books tucked into the coffin coffins; mostly paperback remnants of three children’s growing reading habits from Little Red Riding Hood through Hardy Boys mysteries, science fiction and required literature for high school.

I moved those filthy musty books out to the rented dumpster, one wheelbarrow load at a time.

Hard thoughts:

I knew many of those books, so the stories echoed in my head.  I remembered packing up my own worn but clean books to hand down to younger children, and I was sad and angry that these had been left to decay.  It is hard work to remove piles upon piles of things that have been stuffed into boxes and cabinets; left behind half forgotten and untended.

It is even harder to realize that my friends had stored them there believing that the coffin coffins would keep them safe, sound, and secure to be enjoyed in future by well-loved grandchildren.

Friends with treasures: please be very careful of how you store your legacy.

But can you believe it?

I think you can.

An Amish family came to ask whether they might take some of those books for their school.  They understood about the smells and the mice and the beetles.  They think they can clean them.

Well yes!  If you really want those smelly books….

And in a twinkling of an eye a small army of Amish boys and their mother were sorting through that dumpster.

“…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….”

One person’s trash is another’s treasure…..