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Clutter on the Counter

I hate clutter. Always have. It’s not that I’m obsessive compulsive. I merely subscribe to the philosophy of ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’


I came home the other day and there was clutter on the counter. I said to my wife, “What’s the deal with all the water containers on the counter?”

She said, “I treated all the water with this new device I bought. It changes the molecular structure of the water. It’s supposed to be healthy!” *See P.T. Barnum’s most famous quote.


I walked into the bedroom and saw clutter on the bed and clutter in the bathroom. I said, “What’s the deal with all these purses scattered all over the place?”

She said, “My self-diagnosed A.D.D. kicked in and I started cleaning out my closet and bathroom cabinets.”


When I was a kid, I took care of my stuff. When you don’t have much, it’s not that difficult. The one exception I remember involved a transistor radio that I had bought at Stuckey’s truck stop for $19. It worked great most of the time, but one day I couldn’t get any reception. I tried everything. I changed the batteries; I fiddled with the telescoping antenna that stuck out of the top. Still, nothing but screeching static! Finally, in a fit of anger, I took the radio and hurled it against the wall of my bedroom as hard as I could. The radio shattered and pieces flew everywhere. No more listening to WLS out of Chicago! 


When we got married, I took care of our stuff. When you don’t have much, it’s not that difficult. I hand washed and waxed our red Ford Tempo every Saturday. I picked up after myself. I cleaned the garage once a month and raked the leaves every fall. Together, we kept a tidy apartment and later a tidy first home.


Over the years, like most families, we gradually accumulated more and more stuff. We lived in three different houses after we got married. Each one got progressively larger. The last house we built was 7,500 sq. ft. It takes a lot of stuff to fill a house that size. And a lot more work to take care of all that stuff.

Our upward trajectory of collecting stuff reached its apex around 2011. All three of our kids had left the roost and struck out on their own. We had purchased a condo in Florida a few years earlier which meant more stuff to take care of. It made no sense to keep a large home in Wisconsin that sat empty half the year, so we decided to sell it and relocate to the Redneck Riviera. Thus began our final, serious process of decluttering. We put the house on the market for the first time and I started getting rid of stuff. Neither my wife nor I tend to get attached to our belongings which made the process easier.


All told, it took three years and three different real estate agents to sell the house. During that time I had cleaned out unwanted stuff in the garage and basement storage areas. Once we got an offer on the house, the decluttering accelerated. We started giving stuff away. My wife hosted a rummage sale of sorts for her friends and business associates. We gave our kids whatever furniture, audio visual equipment, office supplies and kitchen utensils they could keep. We gave stuff to other relatives and friends. We donated stuff to a local resale shop that we supported. Still, there was a lot of stuff left over!


In the end, I hired a moving company to pack whatever remained and rented a 10 x 20 storage unit near our daughter’s home in Waukesha.  I filled it to the top and still had stuff left over. I rented another 10 x 10 unit and filled it up as well. So now I’m paying $280 a month to store all the stuff we couldn’t get rid of. The auto billing continued for more than two years after we moved. I finally got sick of it!

I remember watching a couple episodes of Storage Wars one time. I could not for the life of me understand how people could just abandon entire storage units full of their personal belongings! Well, now I understood. On a trip back to Wisconsin, I said to my wife, “I’m getting rid of all the stuff in the storage units.”


She said, “No! Before you do, I want to go through it with you and make sure you don’t throw out anything important!”


I said, “Hop in the car. Let’s go!”


We drove to the storage facility. I walked her into the building, unlocked the door of the larger unit and rolled it upward. She froze. Her eyes bugged out; her mouth dropped open. I’m not making this up: she took one look at all the stuff crammed in there and said, “Okay, you can do whatever you want with it. I’m out.” She turned, walked out of the building and got back in the car.


I took her home and made two phone calls. First, I ordered a 30-yard dumpster from Waste Management and had it delivered that afternoon. Second, I called Twice Is Nice, the resale store that had taken some of our stuff previously. I told them to bring a truck out the next morning and they could take whatever they could use.


The next morning I returned to the storage facility and emptied the contents of both units. It was an exhilarating and cathartic exercise! The guys from Twice Is Nice took everything they could resell and then I chucked everything else into the dumpster never to see it again. And guess what? We never missed a single thing!


Got home today and went into the bathroom. The top drawer between our two sinks has always been a disaster of a junk drawer. I opened it up and – huzzah! – my wife’s A.D.D. must have kicked in again. There it was, a place for everything and everything in its place!

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