Have you noticed? Life can become too comfortable and it’s easier to live in the mess than do something about it. Before we know it, we become blind to it and the mess looks normal to us. For instance, my Sweet Al put the large jar of peanut butter in the middle of our dining room table and expects it to stay there.
I argue with him. “That’s not where it belongs.”
“But, that’s where I look when I want peanut butter. It doesn’t hurt for it to be there. It’s easier to find.”
Sweet Al’s handywork usually consists of anything showcasing duct tape, black tape or baling wire. We can now add his half-eaten jar of peanut butter in the role of a table centerpiece to that list. Now I know I am desperate.
I turned to books about decluttering. One author says it sparks joy in a person’s life. Another says it eliminates clutter so our children don’t have to take care of our junk.
It was time to stop reading and do something about it. I called an organizer. “I need help with my kitchen cupboards. They are long overdue. The job has become too big for me.”
My Sweet Al and I are coming up on our 58th anniversary and we still have a few of those odd, what-are-we-ever-going-to-do-with-those wedding gifts laying around the house. I guess it should make sense that we have age-old spices overflowing in one cabinet, jars of something unrecognizable and label-missing cans of something else in another.
To the author who believes decluttering will put a spark of joy back in to our lives, I ask, “Do we make a seasonal change by adding bottle rockets to the jar of peanut butter centerpiece come summer?”
Lisa is a professional organizer. One look at our kitchen and, I thought, I would be begging her to stay. That was not the case. Decluttering and organizing is her business. She didn’t even require convincing. Admittedly, I did ask myself, “Who would do that for a living? I don’t even want to do it in my own home, let alone someone else’s.”
To an organizer, they see the job as a gift from God, a labor of love, a counseling session or even marriage therapy. For me, there is so much, too much to see. “I guess I don’t have enough cupboards.”
With one look, Lisa said, “You have plenty of cupboard space. You just need to organize them. Before I do anything, I want to take pictures.”
I thought, “She better have a wide-zoom lens or a panoramic setting if she thinks she is going to get everything in the frame.”
A split second later and our journey would begin. She pulled out food, dishes, utensils and appliances. She brought everything to the table and put them next to the peanut butter jar. “Sit down and go through this stuff and decide what you don’t want to keep. Put everything else into these boxes, which I have marked. Throw the rest in the big trash can.”
She held up two glass measuring cups. “Which one do you want to keep?”
Is this a trick question? What if I give you the wrong answer? I said, “Both.”
“Do you need both?”
“So OK, which one do you want to keep?”
Sheepishly, I said, “I guess I’ll take the one in your right hand.”
“Good answer.” For eight hours, we played the get-rid-of-the-stuff game. “Eliminate one if you have two, or both if it’s not going to be used.”
Black trash bags were filled with expired food, chipped dishes and several other things that just took up space. Since it happened to be trash day, my Sweet Al jumped in and loaded up the back of his truck to help us clear the room.
Al came back exasperated. “I didn’t have time to look through any of the bags you threw away. The garbage truck was there waiting.”
I turned to Lisa and laughed. I usually have to throw away things several times before they finally leave the property. Sometimes, I just wait until my Sweet Al goes out of town so he doesn’t “reclaim” things. I’ve learned not to explain that what’s in the bag is broken or doesn’t work. That is usually a green light for my Sweet Al to take something out of the trash and put it in his garage so he can “fix it” later.
I’m sure Lisa wondered how we remained married all these years. More over, I’m sure she wondered if her work was going to be in vain.
Everything that was left in the kitchen was put into see-through containers and labeled. Nothing was wedged, stuffed or folded into place. Anything not in a container had its own place with room around it so it could be seen.
My kitchen was in perfect order, masterfully organized. But this process wasn’t without its hazards. I had an awakening of sorts. Over time, you place things where you think they make the most sense. Then someone comes along and questions, “Why is that there?” or “Do you ever use that? Wouldn’t it make more sense if that were moved over by the others?”
The cups were no longer cluttering the top of the microwave. Baking goods were no longer on the bottom shelf, and snacks had their own shelf in the pantry.
Lisa started at 9 a.m., took a 15-minute break for lunch and, by 6 p.m., she had finished. I stood in complete appreciation as she did a final survey of each cabinet and drawer. She moved about taking “after” pictures. Then I heard a loud gasp.
Low and behold, my Sweet Al had put the dog biscuits on the snack shelf and thrown the bag of Doritos back into the big crock by the dining room table. She removed them and handed them to Al. “No, this can’t be there. I can’t live with that.”
Al looked bewildered holding the dog biscuits in one hand and a bag of Doritos in the other. I was ecstatic. I finally had someone on my side.
Making order out of chaos is an art. An organizer who arranges cabinets is no different from a painter who paints a masterpiece. To the artist who organizes, the dog biscuits on the snack shelf was a ruined composition.
For my Sweet Al, the dog biscuits sat on that shelf long before it was a “snack shelf.” That’s where they always were. Why would he do anything different?
Early the next morning, Al woke me up and said, “This might be a silly question, but where’s the coffee pot?”
I said, “Lisa put it in the garage.”
My Sweet Al went to the garage and looked around. He came in and said, “It’s not there.”
I had to explain, “Not in the garage, but the roll top cabinet in the kitchen we call the garage.”
Final brushstroke: I can understand why it is easier to remain in the comfort of the mess. It takes effort to learn new habits. The cupboard/garage where we used to keep our snacks is now a coffee bar. The snacks are in the pantry, and the peanut butter is in its place in the cabinet, where it belongs. As for Sweet Al, he’s still rattling around looking for the peanut butter. And when he finds it, it will probably be back on the dining room table. I’ll learn to be OK with that provided the dog biscuits don’t show back up on the snack shelf.
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