Clearing the clatter of clutter

I kicked the bunched-up rug to the side and opened the back door. I was sick of stuff in my way. Clutter made the house seem small and weighed me down like muggy air on a hot summer day. My house and my mind needed a cleaning, the kind that comes with a good storm.

I decided to have a garage sale.

Nothing was spared. Drawers, shelves, racks, stacks, cabinets, and closets. "But I lugged them all the way from the flea market in Amsterdam," I argued with myself as I took the red drapes off the closet shelf.

"Get them out of here." My pragmatic side was not swayed by sentiment.

"But they're so cool."

"When was the last time you used them?"

"OK, three years ago." They didn't pass my "if you haven't used it in a year, it's out" test. Into the garage-sale pile.

The small maple chest in the basement was stuffed with sewing projects. Satin edging to mend Daniel's frayed baby blanket. Daniel's legs have gotten hairy since I bought it. "Daniel," I said as I carried up an emptied drawer, "could you carry this cabinet out to the garage for me?"

"Mom, I have finals." His deep voice grumbled and he scowled. Each of our three children has a unique way of dealing with chores. Daniel argues and then does them when I'm not looking. Cassie rages against the injustice of my asking her at all, and then vanishes. Luke disappears before I even ask him to help.

"Thanks," I said when Daniel came back from the garage.

"What do you think about this teapot?" The film of gray was gone after its run through the dishwasher, and it shone.

He sidled past me as I turned the pot over.

Wedgwood. Fifty cents at a yard sale when Luke was still drinking out of a baby bottle. But I use a bigger pot now. Into the garage-sale pile.

I had a hard time just taking the green silk skirt off the hanger in my closet. Pat splurged on it for me in Boston, just the two of us for the weekend. The kids were toddlers then, and I was skinny from chasing after them. The last time I wore that skirt was to Giordino's with Patrick's dad six years ago. During the whole meal a little voice in my head murmured, "Remember not to take your sweater off, no matter how warm you get, or everyone will see that you couldn't zip."

I've always thought I could make it into a decorative pillow. It's beautiful green-and-russet silk.

"Get real," I said to myself, and tossed it on the pile.

The purple-and-yellow kid's desk, the sweet little oak chair. Out. The extra garlic press, the dusty juicer. Out. My white nylon half slip, sheepskin slippers I bought in Maine, a bikini. Out. The squirrel guard we got when we thought we were the kind of people who would keep a bird feeder stocked. The orange backpack, the etching whose frame broke 10 years ago. Out. The toy box. The unmatched in-line skates and flip-flops that had been in the toy box - finally, into the garbage. Half of the cloth napkins from my linen drawer. The satin tape for Daniel's baby blanket. Out. I just couldn't give away the blanket. Someone had woven it for him. Sentiment won that round.

I hesitated about the ironing board. I have heard people say - not just my sister-in-law who (with her MBA) struck me as curious for saying it - that ironing is relaxing.

Ironing boards and white slips are both considered necessities in some circles. While I gave away my slip with glee, the possibility that I might derive pleasure from an ironing board made me keep it.

When I was digging through my linen drawer, getting rid of the yellow-striped napkins that I am tired of, I found some green plaid ones. I'd forgotten about them, probably because they were too wrinkled to use after I'd washed them once. Not with wrinkles you can smooth with your hands - these had grooves and ruts.

But I liked their color. Summer green. I headed for the basement as if someone had just announced that cheesecake was being served down there. I unfolded the ironing board and waited for the iron to hiss. Hot metal against wrinkled cloth. The wrinkles smoothed out, a weed patch turned into a garden, a stormy night became a clear day.

I ironed a pile of crisp, square napkins. When that batch was finished, I found some tangerine napkins, and piled them neatly next to the greens.

Luke was dashing through the dining room as I came back upstairs. "Look!" I held up my stacks to him. "Aren't they gorgeous?"

He stopped, and looked at me curiously. "They're napkins." And he was off.

I looked at my piles again and smiled. Napkins, yes, but so much more.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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