Sunday, July 12, 2009

From the Stacks

I am a life-long recovering stacker, a piler, a "put it in the closet and worry about it later" addict. When I was working and often overwhelmed with just getting through the day this habit worsened at home, probably because it was so important to stay organized at work (when at least fifty kids are counting on you to get them enrolled for programs, camps, and events by deadlines, keep up with their exhibits, and the parents are looming in the background, never mind the meetings and speeches--you put a lot of energy into keeping up with their stuff). I think of it as as the "working woman's fog" which envelops messes so you don't see them until you're ready to handle them and I'm fairly sure I'm not the only one subject to it.

For months and months I've been unhappy with my lack of space, with the homeschooling materials that seemed to have no place to go other than my desk or floor, the boys' overflowing cubbies, and with my growing list of interests (candles, gardening . . . ), my office was beginning to look like a really badly organized storeroom. The living room wasn't much better. We seem to have acquired more books than my shelves can hold, Sam now has two fish tanks, and everyone uses the dining room table for their hobbies--which would be fine if they'd pick up behind themselves. To avoid belaboring the point, I will not even discuss my bedroom which--as most parents know--is the place we put all the stuff we don't want kids into and where we store broken TV sets that the men in the house are just sure they can fix someday, and-as we have the biggest closet--is also where we keep all the holiday decorations and suit cases and the old DVD players my oldest bought at the rummage sale and intends to sell on ebay.

About two months ago the last of the fog blew away and several things registered at once. The first being that I had plenty of space that I was simply not using to my advantage. The second--it was time to claim it. The third--our one great storage space--the shed--wasn't being used to its fullest potential, to put a polite spin on it. I've been pretending for the last two years that the men weren't standing at the entrance and lobbing into its depths the items I told them to put away carefully (because I wasn't supposed to be lifting anything over ten pounds---a rule I've broken repeatedly this summer and feel better for it). In my heart, I knew the truth, but it was easier to imagine a dusty dark space with carefully labeled boxes lovingly stowed away for future use than it was to face reality. But my garden is beside the shed. One day, when I was already in a bad mood thanks to Japanese Beetles eating my pole beans, I went for broke and peered inside. The resulting scene was not pretty.

None too happily, I put everyone on notice that we were going to clean it out. All the men in the house suddenly had places to be and people to see, but I was on to that one. I'd already hidden the car keys, told anyone who called that we were going to Bermuda, and taken the phone off the hook.

On Tuesday, like dead men walking, they all filed out the back door and stood silently in front of the shed. I slid the door open. A family of immigrants with suspicious Transylvanian accents scurried out. Jimmy Hoffa followed, apologizing for overstaying his welcome. A thundering herd of giant tortoises thundered past. Three imaginary friends willow-wisped through the air and back into the light from whence they came.

Okay, maybe not. Maybe there was no room for them, not even the imaginary friends. Maybe between the ancient broken treadmill, the ski machine, the rowing machine (all hand-me-downs from my exercise guru mother-in-law) the piles of boxes (some of which were lying in their sides, their guts spilled), and the baskets and boxes of old toys, containers of clothes, computer equipment, and camping equipment, there wasn't even room for rats (which probably explained their absence).

The next four hours were spent sorting and throwing away and lots and lots of "Hey! I remember this . . ." and a surprising amount of reminiscing. But I was merciless. With years of experience behind me, I know that asking the men to give up anything, even the smallest broken toy, will be met with Mr-T sized resistance. But I stood my ground, demanding that they reduce their respective piles to one or two storage containers. The old treadmill went to the slowly growing pile of scrap metal (which will be taking its leave this week by way of a scrap metal guy). The ski machine went to the deck where the boys can exercise their hearts out. We found that we now have more than enough tents to go camping this summer. And we poured through boxes of books, finding old friends in the process.

(To my horror, I discovered that I had not just one huge box of canning jars, but two. Now I have more than that because I bought more two weeks ago. I will have to triple the size of the garden next year in order to use all of them!)

When we were done, all six of us could stand in the shed and look at our work. Neatly labeled boxes, camping supplies carefully gathered, Christmas trees with all their parts, and tools, all had a place. My tech-savvy oldest even installed a LED light so we can see what we're doing the next time one of us goes looking for items or needs to store something out there.

That done, I turned my attention to the closet in my office. Homeschooling moms can tell you that we often acquire more curriculum than we can use and I am no different. Actually, in my case, it's worse. My mother was a homeschooler and passed all of her hard back books on to me as my brothers and sisters finished with them. One of my sisters tells me she intends to homeschool as well and has asked me to hang on to the books for her (she lives with her husband and kids in a small apartment at present). Add all the boys' hobbies--microscopes, telescopes, robot parts, and computer equipment, sprinkle liberally with garden lime, bird seed, and the odd puzzle pieces to puzzles no one remembers ever having, and you have yet another dark, scary place that Jimmy Hoffa wouldn't have fit into.

I stored four rubber maid containers full of books, flash cards, and games in the shed (in the designated corner). I moved the boys' school cubbies into the remaining space, cleaned out my desk drawers (somehow I have also acquired an entire drawer full of AC adapters to items I don't remember having--I'm beginning to suspect they breed--rather like wire coat hangers), and went through my bookshelves. If you're seeing an ongoing theme with respect to books, you'd be right. We have a lot of 'em.

Next I'm moving on to our bedroom. Now that we've found the Christmas trees, I think it would be nice if the Christmas decorations would join them, thus opening half my closet. And the broken "Oh I can fix that" TV set that's been gathering dust out there for over a year? I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get that one out past the menfolk, but I'm up for suggestions.

However this morning I am typing to you from my newly reclaimed space and peace reigns--for however long it lasts. My desk is clean, my shelves organized, my closet space well used. Now Gary, who likes having me home more all the time, is eying the empty space in the office and asking if we can now move a desk and computer for him in here so he can surf in the orderly quiet too.

Like I said, however long it lasts.


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

WOW. I'm very, very impressed. Mostly with the fact that you got all these guys to do the work for you. I wish I could see pics of before and after, but I understand that you don't want to incriminate yourself on the Web.


Scotty said...

Dean men walking - heh, I can soooo picture that, shoulders slumped, hang-dog expressions on their faces, hehe. I shouldn't laugh, but I am.

A good cleanout is good every once in a while and ya never know sometimes, there might be just enough stuff to have a garage or sidewalk sale and make a few dollars in the process, eh?

Have you seen these, Mary? They're great and with a little bit of home-handiness, you can modify the lid with a nice piece of wood that will allow you to use it as a mobile table for study, games, etc.

jeanie said...


Do you have a spare boot to attach to my rear to do something similar?

Anonymous said...

Ha! I am a declutterer, thrower-outter, chuck awayer and would have LOVED to help you . Call me next time!

Mary O. Paddock said...

No, Mrs C--I'd rather there be no record at all of my slobbiness.

Thanks Scotty. Thanks for the suggestion. I hadn't seen those yet. That is a really good idea.

Jeanie--Our boots are all taken. I'll bet you don't need as much of a push as I do.

RH--If you lived closer, I might just call on you. :)

Debby said...

Oooh. Mary! Please to come and visit me... :^D

Mary O. Paddock said...

Debby--something tells me, you don't need my organizational skills (cough-cough). :)