So this weekend, we cleaned.

Let me preface this by saying that Kevin, like many of us, is something of a packrat. This is a very common affliction. Most of my family are packrats, many of my friends are packrats, I have myself been a packrat, when my grandmother died there were three solid households worth of stuff to go through, two of them in boxes in the garage, with the end result that my parents had a garage sale every weekend for about six months. Packrattery runs in the blood.

Right around the bit where I got a divorce, I had one of those mental switches, began screaming (mostly, but not entirely, mentally) that I would no longer be a slave to the Tyranny of Stuff, and became an anti-packrat.

I still have stuff. Particularly art and art supplies and books. I have a LOT of them. But it’s become much easier for me, in that I can realize a piece of art does not please me and get rid of it, look at books that I haven’t read, realize that I will never read them, and go sell them to the used book store, or acknowledge that those pants are so far off my current size that I have no hope of wearing them in the next two years, and drop ’em off at Goodwill.  I am no paragon of virtue. I’ve got more ceramics than anybody could use, and two Tupperware boxes of questionable art supplies that need to be gone through, and a box of oil paint stuff that I use so rarely that I have no justification for keeping it, but, for example, I no longer move with boxes labelled "Sentimental Crap — Don’t Bother Unpacking." (Yes. I had those. Several.)

And I have finally gotten over that pernicious belief that I spent money on it, ergo I must keep it because if I get rid of it, it’s wasted money. (This is the WORST. Took a great deal of mental trauma to make myself believe that space is valuable too, and that just because I spent money on something I haven’t used, I’m not an idiot/bad person/whatever.)

Also, my studio is a hell of darkness into which only the bravest or most foolish would descend. This is because it’s a working artist studio. When I stop to put crap away, it means I’m avoiding work, depressed, or it’s That Time of Month.

Now, I’m willing to admit that I may have swung slightly far to the anti-packrat extreme. This doesn’t cause as much relationship friction as you’d think–I mayoccasionally wander through the house staring at some object and going "What is this? Where does it live? Why do you still HAVE it?" but the last thing I want is to get filed under That Chick Who Threw Out All My Stuff, so I try to be good. I realize that parents are obligated to keep a certain amount of crude crayon drawings and graded spelling tests, and I firmly believe that it would be unspeakably ill manners to just throw stuff out without asking. And Kevin’s gotten a lot better about the reflexive packrattery, hopefully without too much nagging on my part.

And for the most part, we do pretty okay. The house, jammed with ten years and two kids worth of detritus, is a huge project for even the most dedicated de-clutterer, but we’ve made incredible amounts of headway. We recently relocated about half the kitchen counter equipment, because it never got used. (It went into the closet, where it gets a year to see if it’s going to be useful or not.)  My studio was de-kid-stuff-ified, Kevin is slowly reclaiming his office from the junk room, and we are beating the clutterbeast back.

Okay, enough exposition. So Saturday, we were going to fight another battle against clutter, Kevin was clearing more junk out of his office, and I was reshelving books in the hall bookcase, when one side fell off it and it collapsed more or less into (and onto) my arms. Cheapass Target piece of crap.

By dumb luck or the grace of Ganesh, I caught the weight of the collapsing shelf on my left fist, breaking the momentum, so that it came to rest, heavily but gently, on the back of my right wrist. Everything happened so quickly that I found myself staring at the sight of my right hand pinned between books and shelves and thinking, very calmly, "It doesn’t hurt. Would I know if it was broken yet? Would I get a few seconds of sitting here going "Am I okay?" before I’d know, or would I know right away?"

Also, I yelle "FUCK!" at the top of my lungs, because, y’know.

Kevin came running, and managed to extricate me, with some difficulty, from the tangle of hardcovers and particleboard.

"Thank god," I said, massaging my wrist. "It’s not broken."

"Thank god!"

"Yeah, that’s my drawing hand."

"And also your handjob hand! It could have been a tragedy!"


So our cleaning day was interrupted by a trip back to Target for another Cheapass Target Bookcase (because learning from our mistakes is something that happens to other people!) and then Kevin set to work assembling it. Since this is really a one-man job, particularly in the close confines of the hallway, I decided to tackle a job I’d been meaning to tackle for quite some time.

I speak of…the closet.

There are multiple hall closets, which we have mostly ignored on the principle that you can get the door shut and they’ve neveractually killed anyone. This weekend, however, I was determined that I was going to reclaim one of those closets. He warned me that it was mostly his ex-wife’s junk, he warned me that I was going into places from which neither man nor beast had returned. I laughed in the face of danger. I have gone bra shopping with Carlota, hell holds no terror for me.*

It took nine garbage bags.

There’s packrat, and then there’s "gunning for an appearance on Clean My Hovel"** I have specifically avoided speaking ill of the man’s ex-wife, in that I don’t know her and relationship stuff happens to us all and it’s frankly none of mydamn business, but holy shitchickens, this closet was like…like…dude.

Now, I admit, my purse is occasionally a landfill, but apparently this woman’s method of cleaning her purse was to remove her wallet, throw the entire purse into this closet, and buy a new one. I pulled out multiple stuffed handbags.  Most of them still had change at the bottom. There’s conspicuous consumption and then there’s…I don’t even know what that is. Pathology of some sort, I imagine.

Two shelves were nothing but ancient Play-Doh and the various encrusted play-sets of plastic bits that extrude Play-Doh into formations with a higher lint content. Another shelf, which precipitated a minor landslide, was tangled Christmas lights and several country kitsch ornaments, which had once been cornhusk angels but had been squashed by poor storage and now resembled ears of corn which had attempted to end it all by throwing themselves into a busy roadway, where they had been run down by a bead truck.  There were a couple of things I couldn’t even begin to guess at, which Kevin tentatively ID’d as the remnants of a mobile for the stimulation of brain development in an infant. (His youngest is seven.) There were empty packages for something called "Boppy." Based on the package illustrations, I have a suspicion that breastfeeding may have been involved. I handled them with the latex gloves I use for digging around in the fishtank, just in case.

"Well," I called up the stairs, holding a JC Penny catalog from 2003, "my student loans weren’t wasted. I’m finally using the archaeology part of my degree." 

Ben attempted to investigate some kind of plastic tinsel thing, caused another landslide of boxes, and left in a huff. I pulled out the object which had attracted his attention. I still don’t know what that was. It had Jack Skellington’s severed head on it. He looked pained. It was sitting on top of what may have been a child-carrying device with suspicious stains, but which could also have been some kind of bondage prop for someone with a serious Thomas the Tank fetish.

Of the objects in the closet, exactly one belonged to Kevin (an album from his grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary.)  Everything else went into garbage bags. By the time I got to the bottom shelf, it was basically just…cruft…settling out in the normal sedimentary fashion, so that the old envelopes and whatnot rested on top, while the marbles and dried Play-Doh nodules and aging chapstick drifted to the bottom. I’m not sure how that works, in the absence of external motion, but perhaps the moon exerts a gravitational pull on crap. Clutter tides, washing in and out of basements and attics, spreading out in alluvial fans of lost earring-backs and bits of Lego. It’s as good an explanation as any–god knows, I never remember buying some of the crap I’ve got, I’d believe it’s being washed in on some invisible sea.

So that was that closet. I’m out for a couple of weekends at events, but when next I have a weekend free, I’ll tackle another closet, and try to dam another inlet of the vast and unknowable clutter tide.

*Size H. Rather like having two five pound sacks of flour hung off your collarbone, with associated back problems.

** Or whatever the latest incarnation of that genre of show is called.

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