(Originally published June 15, 2012. As I’m getting ready to tackle my basement in the next few weeks, I thought I’d put this out there again…for a little moral support, ya know? )
Yeah…I’ve got clutter. My clutter’s got clutter. I have piles here and piles there and every time I make a new pile, I truly believe that I will “sort through it” or “file” it some day. Hmmm. Right.
I have laundry baskets in my basement full of miscellaneous crap. (You know…from the “stash and dash” you do before company arrives?) I have school papers (goodness, gracious I have school papers), multiple manila envelopes of various sizes and importance, unopened mail, kitchen gadgets, crafty items, VCR tapes (why?), cassette tapes (yes, you read that right, cassette tapes. For all my younger friends, those are little plastic music playing thingies with a shiny brown tape inside that you wind with a pencil when your little brother disembowels it cuz he thinks it’s funny.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, all the stupid stuff in my basement. I have scrapbooking supplies that haven’t been used since before my 10-year-old was born, dress suits that I haven’t worn in 15 years (cuz I’ll fit into those again), books…don’t even get me started on the books. Computers…old computers. Electric cords to things that I don’t own. Empty paint cans. Old back packs. Old TV’s (the kind with “tubes”). A VCR (of course, so I can play those VCR tapes, cuz you can never get enough Barney the Purple Dinosaur, “I love you, you love me…”).
And it’s not just me. My husband is just as bad. We moved 10 times in the first 13 years of our marriage. Do you know what came with us all 10 times? At least 4 boxes of Bill’s “keepsakes.” Do you know what’s in those boxes? College notebooks. High school text books. Old T-shirts. And lots of papers. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to pry those boxes from his white knuckles. “Why do you need to save these things?” I’ve asked. Here is his reply. Get ready for it. I’m not kidding you, this is his answer, “Because if I get Alzheimer’s when I’m older, maybe one of these things will bring me back.” Yeah. You see what I’m dealing with.
Back to my psychosis. Why do I have all this junk in my basement? It’s a combination of four things: Guilt, A.D.D., Laziness and Migraines. Lemme splain…
1. Guilt: I would love to just trash all of the useless, outgrown, out-dated stuff. But I feel guilty. What if someone could really use a full set of “3-2-1 Penguins” video tapes? What if I throw out that old boom box and then I find the cord that would make it playable? Maybe…just maybe…someone else would like to read through those 20 back-issues of Reader’s Digest. If only those weird people who need all these things would stop by my house and pick up their stuff! Seriously, I don’t know what to do with it all!
2. A.D.D.: This one is probably self-explanatory, but here goes. I have enough trouble focusing on a task when I only have a few distractions. Imagine a lifetime of memorabilia? Think of the distraction factor! Oh my! It’s ridiculous. I have the best of intentions, but I get started and the next thing I know, I’m reading flowery 6th grade notes passed back and forth and folded to look like a bear or a dog or something like that. Or I’m looking at baby pictures or flipping through a favorite book from 20 years ago. The task is just too shiny. Enough said.
3. Laziness: I’m too lazy to explain this one.
4. Migraines: Sorting gives me a migraine. It’s true. I’m not even saying that to get out of it cuz I’m so lazy. I have a very organized friend, Heather, who is so wonderful and non-judgmental about my clutter-crap. She came over one day, many years ago now, determined to help me organize my industrial sized desk. We took everything out of that huge desk and piled it on the dining room table and she proceeded to hold up each item and ask, “File, Trash or Give away?” (I know we did this because I have evidence of it. But I don’t remember much of the day. I think I blocked it out of my memory cuz it was sooooo boring and painful.)
We made it through the process. The proof is in the two cardboard boxes (still in my basement) with Heather’s hand writing on them. “Mortgage stuff, House information, warranties, etc” The most interesting thing about that day, though, is the letter that Heather wrote me a week later. She basically said that she’d heard me talk about how hard it was for me to sort through stuff but she’d never seen me in action. She said, “I actually watched you get a migraine. You physically deteriorated right in front of my eyes.” Her point was that maybe I should get someone to help me on a regular basis because it was obviously not my strong suit. She said she thought it would make more sense for me to hire someone to help me in my weak areas so I could put my time and energy into other things that I was good at.
It was one of the sweetest things anyone has every done for me. She was giving me permission to be me. That’s what it felt like, anyway. She wasn’t saying, “If you’re not good at something you should give up and not even try.” But she was telling me that she knew it was just inherently harder for me and that didn’t make me less of a person. I have other gifts and talents and she was suggesting I work on those and leave the organizing to someone who’s good at it.
I have yet to hire a professional organizer (obviously…I mean you’ve just read about one tenth of what’s in my basement) but since that letter, I have occasionally paid someone to clean my house. And I have definitely put my time and energy into things that I’m better at. So, although my clutter is still around (and I truly do wish I could get a handle on it. Really…I know it’s not good for me) the last five years of my life have been more about doing new things (like writing a novel, going to Africa three times and developing great friendships) and less about beating myself up for my short-comings.
Incidentally, the other day we were having new concrete poured for the driveway. My husband came in the door with a deer-in-the-headlights look saying, “Babe, they need the survey that was done when we did the re-finance seven years ago.” Really? Seven years ago? “I have no idea what that even looks like!” I told him. He explained, “It’s in a manila envelope.” (Not extremely helpful, as I’ve already told you I have many manila envelopes in my piles, but worth noting.)
After a few moments of panic, I remembered Heather’s distinctive script on two boxes in my basement. I was quite sure one of them said something about mortgage or house stuff. I grabbed the boxes and sifted through. And there is was. A manila envelope with the survey inside. Thank you Heath!
And now for the takeaway. What does my clutter have to do with you? Well, if you’re like me, I hope you feel a little less alone. But whether you struggle with clutter or not, I bet there are things you are good at that you’re not investing in because you’re too caught up in the areas you fall short. I hope you will take Heather’s advice, get someone to help you where you need it so you can focus your efforts on the things you can be great at. Today, just take 30 minutes to do something you love. Enjoy!
Oh, and just for fun, tell me what you have in YOUR basement! I will award one million Drew Carey points to the person who has the funniest list!