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Life’s Funny – O.Henry Magazine

Life’s Funny

Clean Sweep

The clutter nonsense of purging

By Maria Johnson

This year, as the crocuses opened, I decided that a little housecleaning was in order because
a) it was spring, and what the heck, if I’m gonna tidy up once a year, it might as well be in the spring, and b) I was scared sleepless by the now-famous episode about the Greensboro woman on the season finale of the TV show Hoarders.

I usually don’t watch that show because, although it brings hoarding into the light and shows that people with the disorder can be helped, I also get the queasy feeling that it capitalizes on the illness and encourages the on-camera flare-ups that are inevitably rooted in fear and pain.

More important, watching a show like that has the same effect on me that researching aches and pains on the Internet does: It convinces me that I have the worst possible version of whatever the symptoms suggest.

Like the time my sore knee turned into a torn ACL as I sat at my laptop.

Or the time my back spasm turned into pancreatic cancer.

Or the time my dizziness declined into a rare disease named for someone who probably made himself sick by staying up all night reading medical books before the Internet came along.

And so, after watching Hoarders, I was stricken by the notion that I could be — no, probably was; no, definitely was — a hoarder.

I was hardly alone. A fastidious friend said that, after watching the same show, she made a beeline to her closet and started tossing stuff out. Later, she talked to a neighbor who’d been shaken up by the show, too. His house was pin-neat, but he feared that he was a hoarder because his closets and drawers were stuffed.

Understand that no one has ever accused me of being a spotless housekeeper. But I’m happy to report that I’m a recovering slob, thanks to thirty years of living with a Virgo. He, too, has benefitted by relaxing enough to let people eat in his car.

Oh, wait. I’m thinking of when we switch cars, and I eat in his car by myself.


As I was saying, I’m a WHOLE lot neater than I used to be, but I do tend toward avalanche-zone closets, so after watching Hoarders, I resolved to attack our largest closet, which holds all of my clothes, some of my husband’s “off-season” clothes, and boxes of personal effects that I cleaned out of my childhood home two years ago.

I started with the boxes.

First up, a framed triptych of my black-and-white baby pictures. Awwww, look at me. Keeper.

Wow . . . a leather satchel that my dad carried as a schoolboy in Greece. There’s his name written in ink, in Greek, on the cloth liner inside. Can’t let this go. I need an easier target.

Perhaps a folder of my first-grade schoolwork will yield some disposables.

Hmmm. Here’s a writing sample, probably composed with a pencil the size of a broom handle.

“Oh, Dick. Come jump down. Oh, oh, Dick. Help me get Tim.”

Nice. I mean, a bit nympho-sounding, but lyrical all the same. Can’t toss my first — and last — bodice ripper.

Next up from 1967: A Thanksgiving turkey made from tracing my hand and coloring the finger-feathers different colors. Attractive. A prime example of post-Modernism, really. Pardon granted.

Looky here. A math worksheet. “Draw the correct number of fingers on Countingman.” Countingman, by the way, is a stick man with D-shaped hands that are just waiting for students to add the correct number of digits. What a sexist piglet exercise that was. I need to show this to my kids as evidence of how far we’ve come.

What’s this? Some old cardboard coasters. Well . . . hmmm . . . OK . . . I guess those can go.

Geez, this is hard.

I need a break. My eyes land on my clothes. Ah-ha. I rarely get emotionally attached to clothes. I cull a few tops that look nice on the hanger but never fit well.

What about this unreasonable collection of yoga pants?

Those stay, dammit, and I’ll tell you why.

In her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo advocates keeping things that spark joy.

In a slight variation on that theme, I advocate keeping things that spark sloth.

More than an hour has elapsed, and I’m making progress, but I still don’t have much to show for my time.

Until I focus on my husband’s end of the closet.

Hmmm. What have we here? Summer duds, eh?

Well, he never looked good in this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or — oh, my God — THAT. I’ve always hated THAT.

Now, we’re getting somewhere.

Wonder what else he doesn’t need?

La-la-la-la. Let’s look in his main closet.

Wow. Check out all of those ties.

And shirts. C’mon. How often does the man wear shirts? I mean, all of them.

I dive in and literally start humming with happiness. I’m starting to feel the life-changing magic of tidying up other people’s stuff.

Soooo . . why not make a pass through his underwear drawer?

Holy moley. Show me a person — who’s not 3 or 103 — who needs this much underwear.

And socks? Overrated.

Much better. I’ve squirreled up a nice little pile for charity, and you know what? I’m feeling pretty good about this cleanup thing.  OH

Maria Johnson can be reached at ohenrymaria@gmail.com, but don’t be surprised if she deletes your email. She’s on a roll.

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