A Place for Everything

My favorite part of moving is settling in. Finally. All the rush-hassle of packing, arranging movers, schlepping items to the Good Will or new home and living with ceiling-high piles of boxes subsides. Energy slowly creeps back, each day a sliver closer to being able to walk and think without creaking.

Figuring out where everything goes, the human trail of do-dads and odds and ends and artifacts and books and notebooks that I drag from home to home like a colorful kite I hope to fly.

My sister and I are both our engineer father’s daughters, with an innate sense of organization. An ability to be both creative and logical. Just as I can organize a story in logical fashion and my sister a website, we can also figure out the most efficient way to lay out and store items. And to make them look good too.

Each new home presents a unique set of challenges. What worked beautifully in one kitchen, such as putting all the pots and pans in a cupboard next to the stove, doesn’t work in another, with the stove cupboard so narrow it will only hold a wire rack. Or the bizarro cupboard with 6-inch deep shelves that worked for cookbooks now replaced by a pull-out wood tray that wobbles and sticks and makes all the plastic ware fly out onto the floor.

My sister is fortunate enough to have designed her kitchens and other spaces to exact specifications. She takes a place for everything to a level that would have awed our OCD father. That is a challenge, of course, just as working with what’s there is also a challenge.

I’m always pleased when items fall into the right place and are aesthetically appealing too. It doesn’t always happen immediately. Sometimes I sit in a room for a few weeks before it hits me that the couch would look better a few inches over, the tables and lamps need to be switched, and the ottoman should be moved out of sight completely. (It’s a small room.)

So far, I have really lucked out with the turquoise bureau. Originally enamel black with a slight Chinese accent, my mother bought it after dad died and she moved into a modern condo with a whole new look, including bright red and green glossy tables.

It was her bedroom bureau until she married our step-dad. I think he used it for awhile. When they bought a larger house, the bureau was moved into the guest room and painted white. A neutral palate for neutral guests, or for those of us in the family needing safe havens, including me, my son, and my niece (at different times).Turquoise Bureau

The bureau has big, deep drawers and when I visited I was able to comfortably tuck away my basic items. But as time went on, I noticed the drawers began to fill up with my mom’s and step-dad’s overflow. They took up photography and my mom calligraphy and designed greeting cards and eventually got computers with all the design software. Each time I yanked open a drawer it got harder and harder, with paper and photographs and camera parts and computer gizmos jammed together and spilling over. Finally, there was no space in the bureau at all for guests and so I would just lay all my clothes on the other twin bed. (There was no room left in the closet either, which my step-dad filled with his elephant-sized Ansel Adams cameras.)

After our step-dad died and mom coped with running a big house by herself, I didn’t have the heart to say anything about the bureau. She finally agreed to downsize close to my sister and the time came to give away much of her furniture. I asked for the bureau and my younger son transported it in his truck from Hermosa Beach to La Jolla.

I had the perfect spot for it in my office, a little alcove in the wall. And I knew right away it should be painted turquoise, my favorite color. I hired my artist-photographer-musician friend Patrick to do it – bright shiny enamel. It pleased me to look at it every day and know it held all my office supplies beautifully.

Then I moved around the corner and what do you know, there was an alcove in that office too! And now, two years later, I move again. This time I have a walk-in closet off my office – and the CLOSET has an alcove for the bureau. They were made for each other. The moving guy couldn’t believe it when he hefted it in.

Yes, some things are a perfect fit, fall into their right place.




More Thoughts on Spring Cleaning – Part 2

I’m nearing the end of my 40/40 Project – the challenge to get rid of 40 bags of “stuff” in 40 days. I thought it would be 40/50, that is, take me 50 days, but it’s turning out to be more like 30/40. I don’t have enough extra possessions to fill 40 bags!

Moving here last summer forced me to bring my stored boxes and bins indoors, since I have no garage, just a carport. They didn’t fill my garage before (I liked to park in there), but now they fill my office closet and I’m already anticipating having less space when I downsize next year. So this project has turned out to be a motivating curse/blessing. I can easily see what I have to sort through – no out of sight, no respite for me.

Overall, I probably have less than many people, since I’ve moved every few years and lived alone for 15. As a writer, my area of clutter lies mostly in files, folders, boxes and baskets of projects and in notebooks filled with ideas, plans, plots, notes, marketing logs, research. And writing, of course. A writer can never have too many notebooks! Except when there’s no place to put them.

In a few weeks of diligent paring down, I’ve burned out my shredder, so I turned to my fireplace to burn more confidential information, such as the tax records showing I earned poverty-level wages during my journalism career. Would anyone want to steal that identity? I doubt it, but I shred/burn anyway. As for my raw, half-baked writing, I don’t care if people see it in trash or recycle bins. Maybe they will laugh or recycle the ideas?

As I wrote before, this 40/40 Project requires 20/20 vision. It also requires courage, a lot of courage, to confront old dreams, ghosts that still haunt us, taunt us, when we open yet another box.

Just which ones do we let go, watch crumble in flames, fill our chimneys with soot? Which dreams do we let drift off and be released into the night sky? Is anything left to rise from the ashes or just a sooty aftertaste in our mouths, lungs and hearts?

The ashy smell lingers for days, but the old boxes are empty and light, leaving room for new dreams and the courage to embrace them.Shred and Burn

Spring Cleaning on Fast Foward

Some nut job with nothing better to do has dreamed up a new challenge for those of us who have enough to do already, thank you very much.

Her challenge is: get rid of 40 bags of stuff in 40 days. Since her idea appeared around March 5, the 40-day timeframe probably corresponds to Lent this year (Easter is on April 20). Giving up something. And what better time than Spring? Renewal, rebirth. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate that.

But to undertake the 40/40 Project, you have to be zealous to some extent. Just like a missionary knocking on every door to find converts. Closet doors, cupboard doors, cabinet doors, garage doors where the lapsed possessions lurk. They don’t need to be saved since they already are, but they yearn for salvation, new life in new location, Salvation Army filled with Good Will.

Since I’m on a path to create a simpler life, to downsize, I decided this 40/40 Project is perfect for me. I’ve been wanting to pare down for awhile. If I grab a few bags and open a door a week and a drawer or file box a day, I can do it!

Letting things go is not easy. It requires 20/20 vision – the ability to see ourselves and our lives clearly and to make decisions quickly. Will we ever wear the pin-striped power suit again? The purple dress? The turquoise pants with black blotches that seemed fine at one time?

Will we ever throw that Christmas party we’ve been planning for 20 years? All those silky green and red lanterns, napkins, glassware, recipes. The invitation I hand-lettered after I took a calligraphy class.Zoe on File Box

Will we write the mystery novel we filed away? Will we need the papers we slaved over in high school and college on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Shakespearian character development, politics in Germany between world wars? Will we re-read the once-timely articles we saved, the issue of Time magazine dated September 11, 2001? Some decision are easier than others. There’s no longer any need to save what we can find on our computers or the Internet.

Some items with sentimental value are difficult or impossible to discard. My grandmother’s Scottish cookbook and recipe cards, even though they are falling apart. A few pieces of my mother’s china and silver. My collection of old letters from relatives long dead, husband long-ago divorced, boyfriends, other friends. I used to fantasize about sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch in old age and reading them all with good memories. But the closer I get to rocking chair age, the less appealing it sounds. I’d rather read something current and be in the now and carry my memories inside.

Zoe in BoxI am soon in the 40/40 flow! Motivated to move forward! I fill little bags, big bags, count an old suitcase as a “bag,” add items here and there to my trash bags. I hang on to a few family items and will gradually hand them over to my sons and daughter-in-law. My file folders are lean and functional, containing only what I’m working on now and a few ideas. My clothes have room to breathe. I feel more ready to make my next move to a smaller home. If there’s a 40-day flood here (and we are in tsunami territory), there’ll be less floating around.

Truthfully, it’s 40 bags in 50 to 60 days for me, since I took a vacation and some days have said “Screw It.” But as the inventor of this project said, it’s the spirit that matters and I’m sorry I called her a nut job. She saved me from having to pay for a professional purger and from having to lug and store more than I need to my next home.

Obsessive Unpacking Disorder

I’m no longer suffering from Chronic Packing Syndrome. Nor am I betwixt and between two homes. I’ve landed safely on the other side.

But now I have a new affliction – Obsessive Unpacking Disorder. Not that I really have to rush through all 50 boxes. I’m not on a deadline the way I was packing.

I do have to unpack most of them, however, so that I can walk from one side of a room to another, and from one room to another without tripping and killing myself. I’ve been bumbling around for a week now and have the bruises to prove it.

UnpackingThe cats have already used up a few of their lives catapulting themselves from the box towers onto the fireplace mantle, unsteady bookcases and top shelves of closets. They’ve also risked my wrath running across the tops at three in the morning.

My one shy cat is a holdout. She has yet to venture out of the bedroom. I know how she feels, would like to stay in there myself, under the covers, and will all my possessions to put themselves away.

But if I’m ever to wear my beige bras again (forgot to keep one out), if I’m ever to wear more than one pair of shoes, if I’m ever to eat off real (not paper) plates again, using real (not plastic) silverware, in fact, if I’m ever going to prepare real (not takeout or microwave) food again – then I have to unpack boxes, boxes, and more boxes.Unpacking Zoe

I’m a pretty well-organized person, so most of my boxes are labeled by room with some clues as to what’s in them. But no matter how careful I was, it was so tempting to stuff things in at the last minute to fill spaces. Thus the tangle of bras end up mysteriously entwined with pots and pans or desk accessories. The walking shoes I added at the last minute to the box with the small bedside lamp, thinking I’d remember. Ha!

So I’ve become a bit obsessive, developing a disorder to help me feign some sense of order. Work in the morning (I carried my computer over by hand, so can’t make excuses), unpack in the afternoon, a few a day. Must meet my goal.

It’s like living in a maze that keeps changing. No sooner do I get used to navigating around a 5-foot stack in the bedroom when it’s gone and I trip on nothingness.

My bedroom scaredycat is finally poking her head into the hallway and I wave at her encouragingly from the living room, but of course she can’t see me over the boxes.

Unpacking Linda and Lily
Unpacking Linda and Lily

I feel disoriented outside too. My new home is only around the corner from my old one, but the right angle turn has thrown me off. When I go out the front door, do I turn left or right? Coming home, do I remember to stop at my door, or do I walk right on past? Yes, I do walk by, still on auto pilot to my old home. Do I forget that my car is now parked out back instead of downstairs in a garage? Yes, I do and so have to carry all my flattened cardboard boxes back around, up the long driveway, easier than the indoor maze. I stuff them all in my car and head for the recycle center, grateful I can now drive forward onto the street instead of backing out into traffic from my old garage. And I’m thrilled when I find the recycle center is quiet and empty and I can throw all the flattened boxes I’ve unpacked into the blue bin’s smiling, cavernous mouth.