Janet Sheridan: Label 3 piles

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Janet Sheridan

At this time of year, we know days will lengthen, snow will cease, and birds will reproduce.

Perhaps you’ve also noticed a more bothersome sign of spring: the cleaning experts who surface in the media to lecture us about the clutter that litters our homes after a long winter.

These experts offer tips for discarding and organizing far beyond anything our frivolous minds could conceive. They tell us to sort less important things first, get rid of junk mail, store extra toilet paper where it’s handy, and throw away pens that don’t work. A professional organizer on TV said that if we cleared away all the stuff that collects on our dinner tables, we’d benefit socially.

I guess without their help we’d begin by discarding family heirlooms, paste junk mail in scrapbooks, put toilet paper under the coffee table, and use defunct pens to stir cream into our coffee. And, I don’t know about your entertaining habits, but I almost never seat dinner guests among piles of unfolded laundry.

While I dread housecleaning — moving piles of dirt here and there — I thrill to the challenge of sorting and rearranging stuff. I feel virtuous as I recycle beloved books, alphabetize the spice containers, and discard the plastic pitcher sent home with us by the hospital as a souvenir of Joel’s surgery.

I could teach the sorting gurus a trick or two. Most of them advocate sorting closets, shelves, and drawers into three piles: recycle, discard, and keep.

I suggest a fourth group: give-to-loved-ones-who-won’t-dare-say-no.

This category enlivens our family reunions — folks scatter, running like the 10-year-olds they once were, when I approach with my treasures: “Look, Barbara, my high school pompoms! Remember how I wouldn’t let you play with them? Well now you can.”

The experts also tell us to make sorting decisions without hesitation, never second-guessing ourselves.

I disagree. I enjoy the stimulating self-debates I have while sorting:

“This charred hot pad was my first 4-H project; I can’t just abandon it. Maybe I could work it into a quilt.”

“You never know; we might decide to eat fondue again. The pot stays.”

I also recommend a practice I adopted to prevent my clothes from bulging out of my closet like bread dough left to rise too long: when I buy a new article of clothing, I get rid of an old one.

At first, I cheated: “Let’s see, I bought new jeans. Hmm. Well, I haven’t worn this mate-less sock in ages. Out it goes.”

So now I make myself choose something similar. Recently, when I brought home a new fleece hoodie, I recycled the down jacket I made from an REI kit in 1977, burned a hole in 10 years later, and haven’t worn since.

Another strategy I propose: don’t involve the man in your life. One look at the multitude of ball caps making your entryway impassable should explain why.

Too often, the minute I discard something and it’s irretrievably gone, Joel needs it.

When we combined our households in 1996, I threw away the crowd of coffee-stained Styrofoam cups he had dragged home from every meeting he’d attended since 1990. Fifteen years later, he still asks for them.

I’m puzzled by one aspect of my skillful organization. I busily reorder the kitchen cupboards: buying storage containers of various sizes, grouping items according to perceived needs, and congratulating myself on my ability to create order out of chaos.

Within two months, everything is once more crammed into the handiest spot. I don’t know how that happens.

I suppose it mystifies Joel as well.

Perhaps a niece of mine has the best method for organizing: pursue a lucrative career and hire an expert to de-clutter and organize your storage spaces for you.

But where’s the fun in that?

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