I was a pack rat. I lived in a cluttered house with minimum closet-space and maximum mess. Most of the clutter had very little material value: Favorite piles of books and magazines toppled to the floor each time I walked through the hallway. Behind the kitchen cabinet doors lurked a plethora of pots and pans, some scorched, scratched, and scarred, others waiting for a festive family occasion. Since I live alone, I only use two pots on the stove and two pans in the microwave. My closets were filled with clothing spanning three decades and my dresser drawers bulged with mismatched socks and underwear.
Common sense told me I must tackle the mountain of clutter; sort, eliminate, and donate, but my heart told me that someday at some time I would need and use everything that surrounded me in my five-room Florida home.
Had it not been for hurricane Floyd this season and the mandatory evacuation order, I might still be trying to find time to declutter my house. There's something about the prospect of being blown away in a matter of hours that made me realize I had to decide what was really important to me, pack it, put it in the car, and move to a shelter as quickly as possible.
I took a deep breath and looked around the house. I glanced at the china cabinet and imagined all the shattered glass and pieces of heirloom china crushed to the floor if the hurricane ripped the roof off the house. It was a difficult decision, but I picked up a cut-glass vase that my mother had treasured and placed it in my suitcase, carefully wrapping it in a shirt and change of clothes that I had decided to take with me to the shelter.
Suddenly, the electricity snapped off, forcing me to stumble around looking for flashlights, candles, and matches. I realized I had to get to the car fast since the traffic lights were probably out. It would be a long drive to the interstate, and I knew I didn't have time to pack things in the house, so I groped around the bedroom and found a gold necklace that I had gotten as a gift when I was a teenager. It wasn't particularly expensive, but it had special meaning so I hurriedly snapped the chain around my neck.
I threw a couple of books and magazines in the suitcase along with my homeowner's insurance policy, secured the front door, and tossed my sleeping bag, pillow, and suitcase in the trunk of the car. Branches were falling from the trees and the rain was pouring. I started to cry as I pulled away from the house, not knowing if it would be standing when I returned.
During the long drive to the shelter I noticed people with cars and vans full of stuff. Some had even rented trailers. Others had barking dogs and screeching cats pawing at the windows. I thought maybe I should have taken more ... maybe silverware or photograph albums. But right behind that thought came the image of my cluttered house.
Suddenly I felt free, almost as if I was hoping the wind would scoop up all my clutter and mysteriously leave only the things that mattered most to me. To my surprise, instead of feeling depressed, I found myself thinking about life with only two sets of clothing, a vase, a necklace, and my favorite books and magazines. By the time I arrived at the shelter, I felt calm, content, and a little crazed. There were a lot of people there. I found a spot for my sleeping bag and bedded down for the night.
The next day, the hurricane warning was lifted. It was a while before we were released to go back to our homes, but we knew the storm had missed our area.
It was a clear day, and the sun was beginning to shine when I opened the door to my house and looked around at everything in exactly the same place it had been when I'd left it 24 hours before. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry so I did a little of both.
I had gotten a wake-up call. I had known life with only a vase, a necklace, and a change of clothes. Hurricanes can be horrible, but a night in a hurricane shelter cleared the way for affirmative action.
At that moment, I decided it was time to clear, sort, and sell everything I was not using. It would take time, but I knew this time I would do it.
The cleaning and sorting process has been quite time-consuming. Fortunately, my daughter was involved in a rummage-sale fund-raiser that motivated me to sell many of my "priceless treasures" for pennies just to clear the space. I have also managed to sort and stack a lot of old magazines and clip and file articles before tossing the rest. My clothes closet is rather bare after I color-coded my wardrobe and got rid of everything I hadn't worn in the past year. Extra pots and pans are packed and ready to be donated to a local soup kitchen.
The hurricane is gone, but my belongings have been purposefully scattered, having found new homes. The only debris and rubble is on the curb waiting for the garbage pickup.
I'm thankful for my sturdy cement-block home, but more than that, I'm thankful for the freedom of uncluttered space. It was long overdue.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society