Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Time To Clean

In Ecclesiastes, there is a passage that the Byrds sang...and most of us know about "a time to live and a time to die..." and so on. I mean, John Grisham titled his book "A Time To Kill" from this same passage. It covers most activities that we humans engage one.

I don't see "A Time To Clean" in there anywhere.

This past week, I have been all about sorting and helping people move out the clutter in their lives. Hey, I've even done a closet purge of my own. We tend to enjoy the thrill of the hunt...purchasing. Disposal of what we've dragged home when it is no longer useful rarely gets done. Unless, of course, you have a serious aversion to clutter and are one of those annoying people who has a house with a place for everything.

I am SO not a member of your tribe.

While I tend to be selective about what I will keep, I also can be the epitome of procrastination. I'll weed through important documents and throw away the chaff, but I tend to get lost somewhere in getting them from the table to the final destination.

Lately, I have been encouraging people to get the "stuff" out of their lives. The truth is...most people will actually do it if they have someone sitting there with them. Someone who they are accountable to. Or just someone to listen to them whine.

Because getting rid of stuff involves some serious whining.

It usually centers around fear of releasing their "stuff" for fear that they'll never get it reorganized again, that they'll need it again someday, or that there is just too much of it and they don't know where to start.

I've seen perfectly sane adults come unglued by the suggestion that we throw out a television that no longer works, bank statements from twenty years ago, a non-functional (and ugly) clock that a husband kept for some unknown reason, a print of "Dogs Playing Poker" that was partially ripped out of the frame, and a box of cross-stitch magazines from the 1980s that hadn't been opened since it was boxed. In every case but the first one, I eventually won out. My grandmother - who passed away in 2004 - was not one who folded to pressure easily...and she died with every television she ever owned in her possession. Never mind that they didn't work. Someone might want them for she held on to them.

Sometimes people go the opposite direction and throw away everything without regard of who might be interested in it. My father-in-law told me that a relative decided to throw out some military records and a purple heart before it was rescued by one of the siblings. I know of people who chant "less is more, less is more" while unloading their entire closets, and then they go out and replace what they just got rid of in record time. In fact, I have a relative whose sole aim is to pare down so much that all we have to do when he passes on is to toss one bag containing all of his worldly possessions in the trash on our way back from the funeral home.

That might be a little more extreme than even I am comfortable with to tell the truth. But it does keep people from getting all worked up over the disposition of assets when somebody's house has to be cleaned out. There are families that no longer speak because somebody took more than their fair share of stuff from the house of a deceased relative. It happens.

I know the nightmare that some people live when their home is so cluttered that is no longer a home. They live in fear of inviting guests over because in every other area of their lives they seem perfectly sane.
But hoarding stuff just doesn't scream "I am in control of my life" any more than carrying around a lot of excess weight does. Neither are healthy.

Most of us would benefit by simplifying our lives. And simplifying our lives starts with taming our "stuff." Excess weight has been best described to me as "body clutter". That's what it is. Perhaps as I have started dealing with that excess...helping other people deal with their stuff clutter just seems to be a natural extension.

Because as long as we are investing a lot of time in stuff maintenance, finding what we need in the stuff, or mental energy in worrying about the mess that is our stuff, we are wasting the time we have needlessly. Maybe if we thought about the time we will have to invest in an item on the front end...we wouldn't be dealing with its disposition on the back end. How many treadmills, exercise bikes, and weight sets were purchased with the good intention of living healthier? But is it healthy to trip over these items in our packed houses? I think not. Seriously...join a gym...or turn on Fit TV and go at it.

I could write a rulebook about what to do in every room and it might actually help some people. But the easiest rule of thumb is this: Is it really worth it, or not?

If you haven't worn something in three years, t is two sizes bigger or smaller than you are currently, if it needs dry cleaning or repair and you don't want to pay for it, if it is covered in lint/cat hair, if it never fit quite right, if you feel like a caricature of yourself while wearing it, if you have one in every color but only wear two of the colors, if you look like a hoochie mama or your great grandmother in it and you aren't either of those things, if it is only able to be worn two days a year because it never gets cold enough, or is stained, ripped, hopelessly out of style or otherwise totally needs to go. I don't care how much it cost or who gave it to you.

The required period for holding onto gifts is 24 hours after you receive it. After that, if you have no use for it...part with it. It's supposed to be the thought that counts anyway.

If you borrowed it from someone...return it.

If it is easy and cheap to replace...get rid of it. This includes plastic cups that are probably taking over your cabinets, Cool Whip containers you are using for leftovers, souvenir coffee cups purchased on a trip a friend took in 1994, and a magnet from a local business - that has long since been out of business - that is featured prominently on your refrigerator.

If you no longer do whatever craft it is because nobody does it anymore or you can no longer see well enough to do it...get rid of your stash of supplies.

Limit yourself to one keepsake box per child. Not one box per year.

If you replace an item, get rid of the old one instead of putting the new one on top of it and carrying on. My grandmother did this with TVs. She used the old one as a TV stand for her new one. Wish I were kidding.

If you haven't used it in five years and can't imagine ever needing it again, wait a week...and then throw it out. This is the only category that presents something that I find baffling. Usually, immediately after finding something that we didn't know we were holding onto...we will find a use for that item or someone will say out of the blue that they are looking for one. If you haven't been enlightened with a use for it in a week...throw it out. But be prepared for this to happen. A friend of mine just unloaded a trash bag full of dry cleaning hangers. After the big orange trash truck gobbled them up, she found someone who needed them. Lucky for that recipient, she had only cleaned out half of the clothes. So, although she lost out on the first garbage bag...she was "blessed" with the second one. My friend dropped them off last week. Win-win, I say.

Oh, there are more...but these are the most common decisions that most of us have to make. Taming our "stuff" means that we will regain the time that we have thrown away in maintaining items that we really don't want or need. Time is precious, you know. So, perhaps there really is a time to clean...and that time is now.

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