Thursday, April 30, 2009

Getting Organized

"Don’t agonize.  Organize.”        -  Florynce Kennedy

This weekend, I’ve begun a new round of organizing.  This was first initiated by the installation of a new furnace, which is smaller than the behemoth that took up former residence in my laundry room, whose absence has left extra room for new storage.  With the extra room for new storage, came the need to reorganize what has been stored, and thus begins the round of getting everything out of the containers, sorting, throwing away the “toss” items, and rearranging and repacking the “keepers”.

I know that these periods sometimes strike a nerve of uneasiness in the other occupants of my household, because they are never quite sure to what degree I will carry out this purging.   In one five year period, we lived in five different states.  Those moves allowed ample opportunity to get rid of whatever it was that we did not want to bring into the new home (this was prompted by a comment one of our movers made during our first move:  “Man, you gotta TON of stuff!”, and thus, the gauntlet was dropped).

When my kids were little, I’d box up toys after Christmas when there were lots of new toys to compete with the old favorites.  If something seemed no longer necessary or valued, I would pack it up in a “six month storage” box.  If six months passed and no one inquired as to the whereabouts of the blue bouncy ball with stripes, it was headed to the trash or the yard sale pile.  Some things could not go to the yard sale pile, because they would be rediscovered at the last minute as something someone REALLY NEEDED to keep, so it would get tossed.

Everyone existed in relative unwitting bliss until the kids were in their early elementary school years, and one of them saw someone with a Cabbage Patch Doll.

“Didn’t WE used to have Cabbage Patch Dolls?” I overheard one kid say to one of the others on our way home from a friend’s house.  “Momma, what ever happened to our Cabbage Patch Dolls?”

I managed to act very intent on concentrating on my driving, and managed to murmur some “ummmm’s” and clear my throat a couple of times before I excitedly pointed out a police car speeding past us, lights flashing, siren sounding, thus managing to change the subject.

I think that is when the kids began to hide things they wanted to keep.

While I am not a sentimental person, I have managed to save an item or two that someone might find interesting at some point, like my son’s first little shoe, about 4 inches long – interesting, when compared to his size 12½ foot today.  Once his feet stop growing, I am sure I will be able to toss it, though.  I harbor no illusions that one day his son will be wearing the same shoes.  That is not something that really matters to me.  I am not looking to recreate his baby-hood.

I have several theories about why I am driven to get rid of things, but I am not sure which ones, if any, are the “real” reasons behind my propensity to purge.

I love to watch the house cleaning shows where someone is living in a home cluttered with stuff and junk and old things that no longer work, and this crew of people come in and help them to get rid of everything they no longer really need.  It is usually a fairly emotional experience for the “Hold On To Everything” person to finally give up things like that old juke-box sitting in the middle of the dining room that no longer works (“… but, Daddy loved that old juke-box!” they cry, stroking and caressing the juke-box as it’s hauled out the front door).  One lady had about 25 house coats hanging in her closet.  25 HOUSE-COATS!  She only has one body.  And, who is going to notice if she wore the same house-coat more than once in a three-week period? Her cat?  I wonder if these people fall off the wagon once the television cameras are gone, or if they revel in their new-found freedom.

After watching the people in these shows being ‘talked down’ by the ever-wise Purger, I realize that, often, people tie memories and/or regrets of the past to their most precious objects.

When I am in the mood to purge, it is usually when my head is full of thoughts and “issues”. These thoughts and “issues” build and accumulate until I feel like my mental storage space is full and I have got to get it all out and sorted.  I’ve come to realize that this is sometimes a physical manifestation of a mental condition (yes, I’ve been told that I DO have mental conditions, on more than one occasion…), and it has helped me to see the need to take these ‘mental inventories’ periodically, as I do the physical ones.  It is going to get messy and it will be chaotic; but the final product is always worth it.

I have had some recent encounters with mental “hoarders”, and it is interesting to see that their physical environments seem to mirror their mental and emotional ones.  One such “hoarder” is not only intent on keeping around every item that “meant something” to them, it is important to them that those around them hang on to the souvenirs they have chosen to bestow on them, as well.  This is true for all of the “good” stuff, as well as the “junk”; the physical items, as well as the emotional.  Dealing with this “hoarder”, emotionally, is as difficult as trying to navigate through a house packed with box after box of every item ever obtained over the course of one’s lifetime.  Some of these boxes may be carefully labeled, and at the ready if the need arises for something like a macaroni-and-dried-bean-mosaic on crumbling manila paper created in 1971.  Others may have been haphazardly packed, unlabeled, only to be opened during a frantic search for some “something” or an “anything” they might want to throw at you… maybe the Betsy Wetsy that was packed with Aunt Mable’s 1920’s bone china chaffing dish… you never know when you need a ‘double-whammy’ like THAT to throw at someone!

I think that sometimes it is hard to get into those mental/emotional boxes and sort, because when we sort, it means that we might actually realize that we are holding on to things we no longer need and then we have to take responsibility for the fact that there are things we must throw away if we are to have room for new stuff; new experiences; new life.  Sometimes that can be painful.

I saw a story on a news program this week, about a girl who had suffered this horrible atrocity when she was 10-years-old.  She and her 3-year-old sister had been left alone in their home (which was actually a camper parked in the parking lot of a casino in Las Vegas) while their mother and her boyfriend were gambling.  Apparently, this was not an uncommon occurrence. Other residents of this make-shift camper community recalled seeing these sisters wandering around, begging for food, trying to keep warm in the laundromat, and just trying to survive. The 10-year-old basically acted as the mother for the 3-year-old.  Anyway, the mother was not the most responsible parent in the world.  She was also selling meth.  Sometimes, she even sold baggies of table salt, masquerading as meth.

On this particular night, the mom had sold some table salt to someone who thought they were getting meth.  This person was really upset and wanted her money back, so she sent her own teenaged children to collect her money (I get the impression that Vegas may be full of irresponsible parents…).  To make a long story short, the first mom would not give the money back.  The teens wanted to make her sorry so they went to her camper, stabbed her two daughters, killing the 3-year-old and severing the spine of the 10-year-old, rendering herparalyzed from the waist down.  The 10-year-old eventually recovered from her stab wounds but is wheel chair bound.  She was placed in foster care, and later adopted by a wonderful family who loves her very much (and happen to NOT sell drugs or hang out at the casinos while the kids are home alone).

The interviewer asked this girl (who is now in high school) if she hated the people who did this to her.  She said she did not, and that she is actually “thankful for the life they gave her”.  The interviewer asked her how she could possibly say something like that, and the girl answered that she was living a life she could never have imagined prior to that horrible night.  She said that while it was horrible that her sister had died, now she felt safe, she had parents that loved her, and she felt like she had a future.

If anyone had the “right” to hoard boxes and boxes of mental and emotional “crap”, it would be that girl.  It made me feel so little and petty to think of the times that I have pulled out one of my packed up boxes of ‘ammo’, opened it up, and said, “Yeah, see that?  That is the excuse for me to be like this!”  That story has prompted my current reorganization.  Life is too short to keep rehashing the “…and then she…” or the “… but, you said…”  That is not to say that these things don’t have an effect on me, it is just that I now have more of a realization that it is up to me to figure out how to process it in the most efficient way, organize it, and then move on. 

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