Simple life

Spring Fling

A Wife’s Fancy Turns to Decluttering

By Jim Dodson

My wife, who feels about clutter more or less the way your average Sports Illustrated swimsuit model feels about an unexpected blizzard in July, recently joked that we should consider moving again in order to get rid of more “stuff.”

Except I’m pretty sure she wasn’t joking.

Over the past decade, we’ve moved our household twice, and it’s amazing the stuff we managed to unload — unused furniture and clothes, old children’s toys, rugs, extra work tools, lawn furniture, out-of-date appliances, mismatched china and kitchenware, disabled lamps, horrible artwork, and a blue million — OK, at least several hundred — of my books and other stuff nobody in their right mind would ever want, but weirdly did, at the two yard sales the aforementioned anti-clutter activist conducted in our driveway in my enthusiastic absence.

Somewhere I read that moving three times is the equivalent of having your house burn to the ground. If that’s the case, we should be living out of doors under the stars by now given all the stuff that’s disappeared from our lives.

With the arrival of yet another March — the traditional start of baseball spring training to some sporting minds, spring cleaning season to Others Who Shall Not Be Named — I could see that familiar glint in her eye as she steely appraised the den where we innocently sat watching an episode of Outlander, taking a mental inventory of things that must soon go. With our nest officially empty and the urge to downsize and simplify taking an even stronger grip of her uncluttered mind, everything in our lives is suddenly up for review or is already being reduced before my eyes. This includes, but is not limited to, daily caloric intake, unworn articles of clothing, any household item that has not been used within the past nine months, and possibly even husbands.

Call me crazy, but sometimes I secretly fear my very person could be next, deemed unessential and taken out one morning with the big green recycle bin and left to be picked up at the curb.

Not long ago, after all, I heard a middle-aged female author on the radio talking with unfettered delight about how after “two marriages and one family and several houses full of incredible amounts of stuff,” she found herself a spare and cozy apartment in an upscale part of town, and decorated it with minimalist brio — “everything was simple and white, without a single piece of clutter.” When a group of her middle-aged friends dropped in to see the new place, and I quote, “They had a completely visceral reaction to it, an epiphany of sorts, an overwhelming urge to do the same in their lives — to liberate themselves from all the stuff in their lives! The problem, of course, is husbands and children. They collect stuff like human magnets. What a woman really wants is no clutter! At our age,” she added triumphantly, “it’s far better than sex!”

On a similar distressing note, a colleague relates that a close friend of hers cleverly encouraged her outdoorsy husband to expand his domain to the man shed out back — then slowly began moving his personal “stuff” out there a little at a time until there was no trace of the poor fellow anywhere in his own house.

In effect, she quietly erased him. My colleague laughed chillingly as she told me this story, casually letting drop that her own husband’s duck-hunting decoys, pipe racks, hunting magazines and other traditional material evidence of an average middle-aged male’s existence is quietly on its way out to the back forty, presumably without the unlucky sod even noticing. Soon there will be no trace that he was ever there. Do I not have a moral obligation as a fellow member of the male species, the Brotherhood of Ordinary Stuff Gatherers, to try to warn him?

After all, stuff happens. On the other hand, when it comes to a determined wife with springtime decluttering on her mind, it may simply be each man for himself.

Thus before I and my few remaining personal belongings get the same bum’s rush to the curb, this got me thinking about my own domestic situation, taking a hard look at the “stuff” that’s accumulated over the years in my modest home office, my sacred inner sanctum where I keep all sorts of things that speak of my presence on this planet and mean the world to nobody but me and quite possibly my dog Mulligan.

One man’s keepsakes, in other words, may simply be his wife’s weekly Saturday morning run to the Habitat ReStore.

Mind you, I’m not that much of a collector of anything, per se, unless you care to count the fifty or so crest-bearing golf caps I’ve picked up from a forty-odd-year walk through the noble and ancient game; maybe several hundred remaining essential books ranging from ancient mythology to modern gardening that I simply couldn’t bear to part with this side of a nuclear emergency; a rug admittedly only Mulligan the dog and I truly like; a comfortable if somewhat ratty reading chair rescued from a second-hand shop; a set of swell pirate bookends; several romantically themed reading lamps (a blue-coat soldier, another made from the shafts of vintage golf clubs, a third made of faux “classic” boyhood adventure books) nobody but a hacker of a certain seniority or a precocious 6-year-old boy weaned on R. Kipling could truly ever appreciate; various framed photographs of scorecards and old golf pals both living and departed; posters from my own long-forgotten book tours; a Hindu prayer goddess; a carved African fertility head; two large pincushion boards crammed with old tournament badges; beloved snapshots of my young children and my first car; scraps of favorite quotes and verse collected at random; old train tickets; theater stubs, etc.; three full sets of golf clubs I can’t seem to let go; four rescued houseplants; and a large growler jug from a local brewery bearing the face of a Medieval Green Man where I’m secretly saving spare pocket change for a trip to Norway’s fabled fjords some summer in the distant future.

In terms of personal “stuff,” that’s about all I’ve really got left — one small office oasis crammed to the gunwales with items that hold absolutely no value to the world at large, providing no offense to anyone except possibly someone who has delusional adult fantasies of a spotless white house.

To the untrained eye, these things may appear to be nothing more than disorderly collection of pointless male clutter, but I assure you there is purpose under heaven to all this surviving stuff.

Albert Einstein, the theoretical German physicist who inspired a generation of hair stylists and developed the Theory of Relativity, pointed out that if a cluttered desk is the sign of a busy mind at work, what then does a desk empty of anything say about its owner?

All things being relative, I aspire to follow this path, yet I fear a new and bolder front in the household war against my remaining stuff may be about to open along with the windows for an infusion of fresh spring air.

Item One: Last month’s issue of Real Simple seems to be worryingly displayed everywhere I look these days, bearing the telltale headline “De-Clutter Your Home and Life Now!” — a working manifesto if I’ve ever heard one for the average middle-aged woman who harbors secret dreams of a spotless and husband-free pad of her own.

Item Two: In the interest of a more serene inner self, Madame lights a tropical-scented candle and does deep yoga meditation every morning in the living room, which has been as thoroughly stripped of tchotchkes and as diligently scrubbed as a CIA safe house. Just the other morning as I shuffled past the open door, making for coffee in my old L.L. Bean robe, I could swear I overheard her calmly chanting: “Those goofy pirate bookends must go . . . the Green Man jug, too. Those goofy pirate bookends must go . . .”

Also, possibly on direct orders from the neat-niks at Real Simple, she took it upon herself at winter’s end to clean out the storage unit where decades of my work papers, extra books and copies of almost every magazine I’ve written for in forty years is safely archived and collecting dust.

“It’s time we do something with all of this — get it organized into at least something resembling contained chaos,” she declared last Saturday morning (rather insensitively, I thought) from the doorway of my sacred inner sanctum, where I sat smoking one of my oldest pipes and musing on the face of my Hindu prayer goddess.

I count at least thirty boxes now stacked in the mud room outside my office door, the only objects remaining between my wife and a better life. Naturally she has a plan of attack. She is a woman who could teach orderly behavior to a convention of anarchists. She would enjoy that beyond measure, too.

“We’ll save only those papers that are essential and shred everything else. Then we’ll scan your magazine articles and get rid of all those unnecessary magazines. You probably don’t need a third of those old books, either, by the way.”

It doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to see where this is headed. My inner sanctum lies directly in her path to a happier life, my stuff’s days are as numbered as the graying hairs on my head. I haven’t seen her this happy since Goodwill offered her a personalized donation parking spot.

Perhaps I shall simply take my beloved Green Man coin jug and quietly head off to the curb to await the recycling man, getting an early jump on my long-dreamed journey to a Norwegian fjord.

Reprinted with permission from the March issue of PineStraw Magazine.

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