Order in the house

Getting rid of clutter provides a fresh start in the new year.

Recently, I was struck with an urgent need to reorder my environment. It may have been precipitated by the installation of a new bathroom floor, the previous one having been pulled up to address a plumbing problem.

The new floor inspired my landlady to begin repainting the bathroom walls. That, in turn, meant emptying the linens from their shelves in the niche between the shower wall and the hallway wall.

The only logical spot to temporarily relocate them was the top of a twin bed in the guest room. While it wasn't my intent to take any further action, the seeds of change had been planted in my thought.

I was sharing news of these proceedings with a friend on our morning walk. This friend is a mover and shaker, and while I was regaling her with the details of this household event, she proposed a helpful – albeit daunting – vision of what could be accomplished should I decide to re-order my whole house.

I was amazed at her ability to see the furniture in my house clearly enough to rearrange it without benefit of being "on site." I strove to grasp the effect of her ideas while adding a few of my own.

"The Cape Cod desk in the guest room would be great in the front hall," she commented, apparently not fazed by the fact that the desk was now on the second floor. (We're talking about a big front hall, one that could easily take an upright piano.)

"And the harvest table in your bedroom would fit neatly beside it," she added. "No more clutter, with the desk to hold your mail."

Three of those words struck an immediate chord: "no more clutter" – my lifetime struggle solved once and for all. Now I was really aboard on what was to me a gigantic undertaking.

My friend generously offered her assistance, and we made a date for her to come over the next evening.

As she found new placements for my furniture, the stuff that had blended into the former setting for so long now stood out, in stark contrast. Previously sequestered clutter embarrassingly appeared as if from nowhere.

Then it was back to the old question of how to disperse these accumulations. They certainly couldn't be left to mar the fresh appearance of the house.

My home's new look is a daily reminder that, during the next few weeks, I need to spend a good portion of my time dispersing.

Cold, snowy days make this task much more inviting. And I've found that setting a deadline ensures that it will all be accomplished.

But it's not easy, beginning at square one to reorganize one's life, for that's just what I'm doing.

Recently I reported my progress over the telephone to my friend. (We haven't been walking because of bad weather.) She sounded pleased at what I told her.

Then she asked, "And what about those tray tables in your bedroom?"

I had to confess I'd left one standing.

"It holds objects I might give away," I said a bit defensively.

This morning, she telephoned to say she'd stop by briefly to show me some baskets she'd bought to help her keep order. Before she arrived, I hastily swept clear the surfaces in the front hall. She was impressed, not realizing I had just slid the papers into a desk drawer.

Although I confessed to this sleight of hand, it didn't diminish her delight in seeing the hallway as it had been when we first arranged it a few days previously. She applauded me in my efforts, recognizing the immensity of the task at hand.

As I continue reordering my little corner of the world, I think of those people whose worldly possessions have been swept away by a tsunami or a flood.

I remember the vision of one survivor who lost everything in the flooding of New Orleans and surrounding towns: "It's an opportunity to begin anew," she had said philosophically.

Although my situation is far from comparable, I can already feel new beginnings springing from my voluntary purging of an unnecessary accumulation of daily trivia.

I've managed to bridge the fear of "toss and it's gone forever" by coming up with a plan that works for me.

I fill paper bags with what I perceive as possible future "tossable items" such as answered letters, programs, newspaper clippings, things I can't take the time to reread, but think I might at some future point.

These bags I place in the attic with a date six months hence written in large print on their surface. Then I mark "toss marked bags in attic" on my calendar for the same date.

In the meantime, if I haven't recalled anything packed away in the bags, I resolve to simply dump them into the recycle bin – without looking at their contents again.

That's the key to the whole process – I never allow myself even one furtive glance at what the paper bags might contain.

Having taken these bold steps, I can say that my resolve remains firm. My annual New Year's resolution to once and for all have my life in order has been accomplished.

Now the challenge is to keep it that way – for at least a year!

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.