A Prairie Notebook


Cutting the clutter is contagious

Back when I was a kid, my mom, grandma and aunts got together at each other’s houses for spring and fall cleaning.
They would take everything off the walls and wash the decorations and walls so they all sparkled. They whisked away rugs, scrubbed corners and, in general, made Mr. Clean look filthy.
I come from a long pedigree of clean fanatics. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit that gene.
My house on many days is acceptable, but sometimes it’s just down-right messy. There are groceries to put in cupboards, tabletops that need unloading, floors to dust and rugs to vacuum. We might be the only household in modern society without an automatic dishwasher so dishes, more often than not, fill our sinks and precious nearby counter space until we knuckle down and do them after a couple meals.
My favorite job is laundry so that’s usually close to being caught up. I adore washing clothes, especially with our laundry room on the main floor and no longer requiring several trips up and down to the basement.
Now let’s get to the true confessions. Even when the house looks clean, tidy and overall put together, we just have too much stuff. I blame it on the sentimental gene that I inherited at the exclusion of the neat-freak jean. I save notes people send me, rocks my kids gave me when they were little, gifts because someone thought enough to give them to me – even if they are no longer useful -- and clothes that I may have worn for a special occasion back in the day.
In addition, we’ve lived in the same house our entire 28 years of marriage, and it has a really large unfinished basement. That’s where the real dirty secrets are, including toys our grown children once played with, enough Christmas decorations to liven up several homes, canning jars that fill shelves, old games and movies, kitchen appliances that aren’t useful and a really cool old lamp from my parent’s house. It’s so old, it’s back in style.
If that’s not enough, I like thrift shopping and can barely pass up a pretty dish, collecting them with no rhyme or reason but just because they catch my eye. It’s like being sentimental about a generation and time in the past, one I never even knew. I can imagine the stories that come with old things and the connections with people and a way of life that is long gone.
But this August, things are changing. It’s my neighbor’s idea, and we’re in this together.
For each day of the month, we are loading a box of stuff and getting rid of it. We don’t have to necessarily do it each day but can go in spurts. The result is that we should have 31 boxes of unneeded possessions gone from our homes when September rolls around.
To stay accountable, we are taking photos of everything that goes out the door.
There are lots of people catching the minimalist bug, eliminating hundreds of items from their homes and keeping a tally. I know myself well enough to realize that I will never be a minimalist. But I like the freeing feeling of unloading clutter. Let’s face it, too much junk is tiring to look at and deal with. It can be a burden now and one when the time comes and the kids have to clean out the house.
So far, I’ve rounded up a huge box of cookbooks I never look at, novels that I intended to read but haven’t, men’s jeans with rips in them, a dozen blazers from my one lonely closet rod, a box of miscellaneous things that have no use to me and part of a box of shoes. These are the easy ones so far.
At some point, it’ll likely become harder, especially if I have to make a tough decision over something that has meaning to me. Wish me luck because I figure if August goes well, I may be able to extend the effort through the year. Yes, we have that much stuff tucked here and there, even if it is out of sight on a daily basis.
I have a short list of spaces to sort through next. There’s a pile of clutter in the family room. There’s a pots and pans cupboard overflowing with cooking gear, including a Jello mold in the shape of the United States.
Just a hunch, but I can probably let that go.


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