Yesterday Sweetheart’s brother Tommy came over to help him do some excavating. I’m not sure what they got done, because I was busy fighting with myself over letting go of useless things I wanted to keep. Also, realizing that I was doing my own excavating while listening to Garbage made me feel a bit more cheerful.
Cheerful, but not any more less angst-ridden about throwing things away.
I turned to Tom for rational advice, and he was perfect.
“Kill your darlings,” he said. Then he explained that when he cleaned up his family basement and had to make tough decisions, that’s what he told himself. I plan on remembering that one.
I was starting on a metaphorical infanticide festival when the phone rang.
Mom wasn’t having a good day and wanted us to have lunch together. So I brought take-out over to the nursing home. Mom ate three pieces of an oreo roll (tuna/mushroom). Debby had a tempura roll and something called a Boston roll, which had – I don’t know – baked beans? I had fresh rolls and a small helping of green curry. The portions are huge, so Sweetheart and I split the rest for dinner later.
After lunch, Debby came back for a couple of hours, theoretically to help me with the room. But she is working on a problematic book review. (The writer lives in the same city as she does, and they have friends in common.) The story is interesting and the writing sparkles in spots, but the book was poorly edited, so there are too many characters, too much going on and a sub-head device that’s the equivalent of a seventh-grade girl who insists on dotting every “i” with a little heart. At first it’s cute, but you want to break every writing implement the kid owns after the 20th occurrence.
So her definition of help was to sit in her room writing while I occasionally showed her things. Which, while not what I was hoping for, was better than someone who’d rather be doing something else in there, tipping me ever closer to complete meltdown.
Anyway, here’s what I got done yesterday.
Today, I’m inviting Sweetheart in to help with one thing – taking apart the Halle Berry chair (once upon a time it was hers) and stowing it in the attic for my oldest offspring, who wants it – and installing a light fixture.
Then, at the end of today, I’m gonna call it quits for the time being. It’ll be functional and I can relax and work in there. I don’t know if I can ever get it and the rest of the house to where I’m fully satisfied. But I can dream, can’t I?
Yesterday I reached the place where you decide that starting from scratch would be easier. Which was quickly followed by advice from the voice in my head.
“You should have just burned the house down.”
Then I thought about the logistics, and of saving my musical instruments (the dog and cat were already outside with me, of course). I will try to plow into today’s work with that in my head. And, of course, the Talking Heads.
Later, my friend Molly sent me an e-mail and said her daughter asked her if she knew that I was a hoarder.
I sent her a one-line response, based on the following:
When Sweetheart and I moved from the other house and the movers showed up, I was apprehensive about the amount of stuff we had and that it wasn’t exactly completely packed. (It was largely packed, but not completely.)
“Is this the worst you’ve ever seen?”
The movers – a crew of older guys – laughed.
“Not by a long shot!” one said.
“Have you ever walked into a house and walked out?” Sweetheart was asking.
The response was a chorus of yeses.
I swallowed, took a deep breath, and asked The Question.”
“Are we hoarders?”
The trio looked around, considering the question.
Finally one spoke.
The other two nodded in assent. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Which is why my response to Molly’s e-mail was, “Tell Sophie the movers diagnosed us as packrats.”
Anyway, my sister arrived last night. She’s going to spend most of her time here with Mom, which is great. But Debby, who has also struggled with the same kinds of organizational issues around stuff (yes, it does stem back to our Family of Origin, and we both thank you for noticing), has promised to have a toss party with me this morning.
Except she just came downstairs and announced that she is leaving.
I’m on my own, and a bit freaked out.
But at least I have a mantra.
Note to self: “The instruments. Your first thought was to save the musical instruments. Try to remember this.”
Update: Debby called from the nursing home. Mom wants us to all have lunch together, and then Debby is going to come back here and help me with Operation Paredown. Just called in to our default Thai restaurant for takeout, but am going to share a picture what I’ve managed to get done on my own this morning.
It doesn’t look different, but I’ve hauled about six bags of stuff out of the room, and am at a part where the sorting is getting hard. Or to paraphrase The Kinks, “I’m in a state of confusion.”
I want to get the floor emptied and the compact discs boxed and put with the rest of the CDs. That’s a whole ‘nother project, so putting them all together in one place and dealing with them is the smartest thing I can do.
After the floor is relatively clear, I’m going to tackle the note cards. Mom had a lifetime supply of stationery and it’s taking up two full shelves in that room. I will never write that many notes. And if I do, I need to remember that even if civilization is eroding, it hasn’t slipped to the point where I can’t buy pads, paper and note cards. Also, I have a job and can afford to pay the utilities, so we are not at the point where I need to burn what Mom didn’t use to keep warm.
Speaking of which, she was very pleased with the blueberry drop-off and is even more excited that my sister, the Disneyland Daughter (the one who comes around a few times a year and takes her out for lunch and shops and does fun things) is coming tonight.
So I will have to take a bit of time off to get her room ready, and I want to clean the bathroom. But my little den is top priority, hard as it’s been to do what I’m doing.
Also, Sweetheart is home today. He says he’s going to deal with laundry and the upstairs hallway (you don’t want to know).
Truth: It’s a slog.
Truth: If I manage to get out of my way and ruthlessly excavate, the rewards will be worth the angst.
By the time my office gets to its new normal, it’ll be better. But right now, it’s worse, even though I hauled a bunch of stuff out yesterday. Some went to the trash. Some went into boxes for the neighborhood rummage sale we’re holding this summer. Mom & Dad’s record collection is downstairs because my pal Ronn is going to digitize a bunch of them before I toss or donate the rest.
Grace hung out with me yesterday and got me to throw away things I might not otherwise have done, and when she left, I got lost in a box of Mom’s stuff before I really went nuts.
She saved everything, and multiple copies of it. I found four of these.
Then Sweetheart came home and started working in the laundry room. (I’d gotten it sparkly last year. He filled it up. When I told him what I was going to do this week and asked him to take a few days off – after I’d gotten a running start – he said he was going to start there.)
When he came upstairs to tell me it was time to go to Cindy & Andy’s for dinner, I’d moved on from the box of treasures I’d found in one of Mom’s boxes and was hard into removing paper clips and fasteners from grad school papers and tossing the remains onto the floor (I’d already filled the recycling bags) to box up and haul off.
That’s where I’ll start this morning, as soon as I’m back from buying a pound of coffee and dropping off fresh blueberries at the nursing home and collecting a hug from Mom. (I have not told her I am off work this week, because she would want me to hang out with her and I have to get this done. I will spend some time with her, but not until that room is the way I want it.)
Before the real meat of this post, a quick update on the bees. As of last week, I can report that they are schlepping pollen to their hive. I expect to find baby bees when we open it later this week. Meanwhile, here are a couple of close-ups of my girls with full pollen baskets.
One of the most amazing things about having a job is paid vacation. This past year, I jealously hoarded the week and change I had left after my daughter’s wedding in order to begin addressing The Landfill I Call Home.
When we moved to this house six years ago, I was in grad school and working full time. I made a conscious decision to put unpacking and housekeeping last, focusing my energy on doing a good job for the People (I’m a public sector employee) and excelling at my studies (I graduated with honors). During that period, I moved my mother across six states into an assisted living apartment and then to a single room in a nursing home. Which did nothing – and continues to do nothing – to help decrease the stuff in my house or increase the amount of time needed to deal with it.
Anyone wondering about Sweetheart and this process? Fuhgeddaboutit. He’s the love of my life. He feeds me and calms me, and that’s huge. But when it comes to housekeeping, he’s more a problem than a solution. If I ever write a screenplay, it’s going to be a horror movie/romcom called “When Packrats Fall in Love.”
Bottom line: Last year, I got my masters degree. I did a bit here and there, but the cleaning/organizing/purging process does not come any more naturally to me than it does to Sweetheart.
Nonetheless, this week, it’s happening.
My dream would be to Marie Kondo the entire place wholemeal. But one thing I have worked hard to be good at is seeing things as they are. Trying to take on the entire house in a single week is a recipe for defeat.
So I am going to attempt the following:
The front and back hallways
I started the study a couple of months ago, when I had a long afternoon. It went from okay to terrible in about three hours. I was so traumatized that I stopped.
But today, as soon as this post is posted, I head upstairs to turn on some good music and start again. I’ll be on my own for a couple of hours, and then Grace is coming over. Something I learned when I first started breaking up Mom’s house is the utility of having a friend who really understands your pathologies. It’s the equivalent of hiring a stand-in for your rational self, someone who can bypass your freaked-out inner child and reassure you that getting rid of your (insert possession here) will not, in fact, cause your soul to wither and life as you knew it to end. Unless, of course, you’re defining “life as you knew it” as “being so overwhelmed by clutter that you can’t function.”
I’ll probably be posting every other day or so this week, maybe even daily as this process unfolds.
Being woken out of a sound sleep by angry screaming is not my favorite way to be woken up. I much prefer my usual way of being woken up – a hug and a kiss. Then, Sweetheart hands me a cup of hot coffee.
Sometime after going to bed Saturday night and well before Sunday’s sunrise, though, I was jarred awake by screams. It was a mild night. We’d left windows open, so I couldn’t localize the sound precisely, but I was hearing it from the south- and west-facing windows.
I walked to the phone, listening to whether the screechers were moving in a particular direction. When I got through to Police Dispatch, I told them it was two, maybe three people. Then, I woke Sweetheart.
He went outside.
I put on a sweatshirt and went downstairs. The dog was in the living room. I rolled my eyes – what was he thinking, walking out there by himself? – and held the door open for Tuki. Sweetheart was standing on the grassy median between the sidewalk and street in front of the house next door, watching two women and a man. They were standing in the street close to the sidewalk on the other side. The women were screaming at each other, the man chiming in less frequently. They stopped when they saw the dog.
“Is that dog on a leash?”
One of the women was asking.
“I got a taser,” she said.
The dog, having just taken care of some dog business, was busy sniffing the ground. At 14 ½, with a bad back leg and an arthritic back, she’s not exactly a threat. But she still looks to someone who doesn’t know anything about dogs as if she could be.
I was in the process of deciding exactly how to respond when the first squad came around the corner. The SUV stopped short of the trio standing in their way and an officer got out.
“Is everything okay?” His voice was friendly, neutral.
“Fine, officer,” one said. “Nothing’s going on.”
“Where did all this blood come from?” His tone was no longer neutral, and as he spoke, another SUV rolled up behind the first one. More officers got out. Another car came around the corner and stopped – I thought it might be an unmarked car. It was the paper carrier, who couldn’t get around the two squads.
He’s not a fan of Tuki, who hadn’t noticed him placing the paper in front of the next-door house. So, before he got wise to her presence and she to his, I offered to deliver the rest of his papers. We walked back to his car together. The back was piled from the floor to nearly the top of the seats.
“That is a $&#(load of papers!” I said.
As he reached for the right ones – a Chicago Tribune, a New York Times and two Milwaukee Journal Sentinels – he told me it was because he was delivering an extra route.
I walked down the street, putting the papers where they belonged. In the time that took, three more squads arrived in quick succession. Officers were talking with the combatants one at a time; the others were sitting on the curb. As I was laying the last paper in front of Linda’s, a beat-up 90’s junker came screaming around the corner, its driver flooring the gas as he pushed the engine to its limit. He was probably clocking 50 mph.
His reaction to the phalanx of squads at the other end of the short block was to do immediately what the cops were yelling.
The car screeched to a stop in front of Linda’s. I could see the driver through the open car window – an overweight man, Hispanic or African-American (the light wasn’t good enough to see more clearly).
The police were yelling loudly enough that I could hear it from the porch. So I knew he could hear it from the car.
“Why are you driving like an idiot?” one said.
“Get out of the car!” said another.
He did not get out. He sat there, with the engine running.
The officers were not impressed.
“GET. OUT. OF. THE. CAR!!!!
That was when he started, very slowly, to back up, away from the other end of the street. Away from the squad cars. Away from the officers. Away from Sweetheart, still standing in front of the house next door with Tuki beside him, and away from the combatants on the curb.
At the other end of the street, one officer yelled his plate number. Three officers began walking toward the car, guns drawn.
“STOP. THE. CAR!!!!”
The driver stopped and got out. I walked down to where Sweetheart and Tuki were still standing, watching the proceedings. We wondered aloud what kind of summer we’re in for if this was how the first warm night of the season was going, marveling at both the speed of the police response and our dumb luck at them being on-scene when the wannabe Demolition Derby driver shot around our corner.
Two officers came over to talk to us before we went inside. One took down my information after asking whether I’d be willing to be the complainant for a disorderly conduct action involving the screamy trio.
The other approached us shortly after.
“I want to talk to the only sensible person on the street tonight,” he said. “And that would be the dog.” He knelt down in front of Tuki. She buried her face in his chest as he rubbed her head and skritched her ears.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).