Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Remember how Ralph and I went through our ice cream phase and our Ritz cracker phase and our popcorn phase? (Come on, keep up, people!)
We go through phases that include other things besides food. Other things, like… things. Like, all the things. We buy all of them on Amazon, then we look around and wonder where all the things came from and we get rid of them. And the cycle starts again.
That sounds horrible and spoiled and embarrassingly privileged. Which, I guess it is. But we have limits. I want a blender, but I won’t, for example, spend $300 on a Vitamix. ($300!!!!!!)
I will, however, buy a cheap blender. And a whisk. And an immersion blender. And a bigger whisk. Until one day all I want is a spatula and I can’t find it because it’s somewhere buried under all the rest of the things.
It’s not that I want all the things. It just sort of happens.
Sometimes it happens because I’m exploring options and end up with too many of them.
Sometimes it happens because I get on a kick, like pandemic puzzles, though I think that can be forgiven. I’m on a cocktail kick right now, which means cabinets full of pretty glasses and paraphernalia for making bitters.
Sometimes it happens because there is a deeply rooted psychological satisfaction in buying things that show up on my doorstep on a bad day. A present to myself, even if it’s just a bottle of Elmer’s glue (I needed it. Really.) Not quite a shopping addiction, but maybe its second cousin twice removed.
Lots of times it happens just because we accumulate stuff. People buy us things, birthday and Christmas and anniversary presents. We collect things from trips, stickers and coasters and brochures. Stuff comes free. The water bottle from the conference, the pen from the time we leased our car (Right? A PEN?)
It all has utility, it’s all STUFF that cost someone money, that depleted some resource, that you don’t just toss in a garbage can when the shelves get too cluttered.
In the case of “stuff other people have bought for me”, it feels wrong to get rid of it, like I’m getting rid of a piece of someone I love. If someone wanted to get rid of something I bought for them that no longer served their needs, I’d be all for it. I’d tell them, “Get rid of it!” And mean it. But somehow, the overwhelming guilt of negating a gift means I hang onto things long after their past due date.
We may be collectors but we’re not hoarders and even I know when a shelf is too full.
That’s where I find myself lately, in the “why do I have this” phase, and that’s where today’s word was born: purge!
Purge the useless, the extra, the unused and unnecessary. Purge the ties that bind and the things that tether.
The only thing that feels as good as having something new delivered to my doorstep is getting rid of it later.
I am seriously cringing at the words coming out of my keyboard right now. So many people in the world hardly have clean water, let alone a shelf to clutter with drinking glasses. And I’m glibly talking about getting rid of the constant excess in my life. But here I am, so this is what’s getting talked about.
Believe it or not, the purge (this time) started with my cocktail addiction obsession phase hobby.
Within the past few months I’ve really gotten into mixing cocktails. So I started gathering pretty glasses and measuring tools. Ralph and I started making our own bitters which requires a lot of strange ingredients and a LOT of jars. (No problem, because I also have a jar “hobby” with shelves full of them.)
All these things got rammed and crammed everywhichway into cabinets and closets wherever they fit.
Then, a couple months ago, my brother came to visit. He brought his bourbon hobby, so we collected new and interesting bottles together. At some point he attempted to help me “organize” by cleaning out the cabinets above the countertop that has become my makeshift bar. Where “organizing” meant “putting all the things on the counter and telling me to put them somewhere else.”
I tried. I mean, where DO you put your old pair of reading glasses and the tape measure and all the extra lens wipes and an extension cord or three?
The result of his efforts was that most things went back in the cabinet and my bar languished.
Then one day I got irritated. That’s how these things go. You need to reach a point of pain before change happens, but that’s everything, isn’t it?
I got irritated that every time I wanted one of my pretty cordial glasses, I had to get the step stool and reach behind the empty jelly jars in the cabinet across the room.
I got irritated that no sooner had Thanksgiving passed than I found a whole stack of really cool cocktail napkins that would have been fun to use.
Mostly I got irritated that all these things were in my way of using the things I wanted.
Once I start to get irritated it’s sort of a downhill run. Everything started irritating me. The bedroom closet, where I couldn’t find my blue shirt because the 20 shirts that don’t fit me were in the way. The office closet, because I wanted to glue something and could not, for the life of me, find the bottle of glue I KNOW I have. So yes, I bought another one. It was $1.72 and it showed up from Amazon the next day. On the plus side, I have glue. On the down side, I have two glues, somewhere, taking up space.
I decided it was time to purge.
This is the part where I get tremendous satisfaction out of tossing everything in sight. If you’re standing in the room where this happens, be careful, you might wind up in the dumpster.
My purge started with the office closet.
You can’t imagine the unbelievable amount of stuff two people can accumulate in a few years. We moved here to Tennessee with what fit into the back of our SUV. That amounted to a few pots, a suitcase of clothes, the office printer, and whatever we considered essential to start over. Everything else was in a box in my parents attic in Brigantine.
The empty space was so amazing. I had no desire to fill it, it just happened.
We’ve been here three years and this is my first purge, but I mean it.
I loaded up several bags of doesn’t-fit clothing. I looked at all the puzzles I accumulated through the pandemic and decided that yes, they’re adorbs, but no, I am not going to do them again. I took stock of the bits and pieces and parts and stuff and decided that if we hadn’t used it in three years, we were not going to miss it.
I mean, we will, because I know the minute I get rid of the pencil case we got at the last conference, Ralph is going to say, “Remember that pencil case? I was thinking it would be really good to use for my cables.”
But in the meantime I may actually have some space again. And you know what? A Ziploc is just as good for those cables.
Another reason I accumulate: because one box of Ziplocs costs $10. But four boxes of Ziplocs costs $12. So?
I can also do math.
You’ll be pleased to know (or at least my brother will) that I’ve completely emptied the cabinets above my makeshift bar, and not simply relocated junk elsewhere but eliminated much of it from my life. Now those cabinets are dedicated to my growing bar supplies, all of which I can find, and use, when I want. Ralph still says, “WHERE THE HECK ARE THE LENS WIPES?” but I know where they are, too, so I can whip one out in an instant.
The office closet is coming along.
My brother, who gets the office as his guest room when he visits, will be pleased. He’ll be back in a few weeks and this time he will actually have a space to hang his clothes.
And I’ll be pleased, because not only will I know where things are and be able to use the ones I want, but I’ll feel less burdened by stuff. It’s funny how all those things can weigh you down mentally, even if they’re shoved behind closed doors. Every item I get rid of makes me feel a little freer. A little less stuck.
I know I’ll be back on Amazon tomorrow because I need that blender, but at least I’ll have a place to put it now.
There are very few things I will absolutely not ever part with, and those things include a plastic lantern my grandfather gave me when I was barely double-digits, an end table my cat used to love to scratch, a giant three-foot card Ralph sent me in college, and a set of cordial glasses my grandmother left to me.
The latter, my brother spent a lot of time trying to find in the attic in Brigantine so he could bring me when he visits in a few weeks, but since there was so much clutter, he could not find them. He did, however, find boxes and boxes of stuff I have not missed in three years. So I asked him to bring those to me instead, just so I can get rid of them.
Photo: a few adorbs cordial glasses in my clean cabinet.