Monday, April 12, 2010

Clutter Busting

Trying to get my ducks in a row...

My first “real” job out of college was at an office supply company. This was in the mid-80s, before the days of mega office supply stores. Businesses would order their paper clips and Scotch tape and copier paper from the Boise-Cascade catalog, call it in to me, and we would deliver it the next day. It was billed if they were good customers, COD if they were not.
I grew fascinated by the seemingly endless array of doodads needed to make an office run smoothly. Clean plastic stacking shelves in so many colors. Pristine manila file folders, identified with color-coded, neatly typed labels, resting primly in proper green hanging folders inside 3-drawer, 5-drawer, or credenza style file cabinets. The huge variety of pencil cups, some with matching desk protectors. Cases and cases of 24-pin computer paper (remember dot-matrix printers? anybody?), legal or letter size.
One winter some co-workers and I earned extra money by meticulously labeling hundreds and hundreds of new file folders for a doctor’s office. They were changing to the system that’s the norm today: the first two letters of the patient’s last name on large colorful labels, with a separate sticker for the whole name. We sat in the cold warehouse with fingerless gloves and created an ordered world.
Ah, the promise of an ordered world. Now here I am, twenty some-odd years later, and I’ve just purchased yet another magazine which has filled my foolish heart with hope and desire:
“Secrets of Getting Organized!”
Oh, yes. To crack that code. Like the office supply catalog of yore, how I love the promise in those magazines: the photos of mudrooms and home offices, the memo boards decorated in rickrack, the kitchen chalkboards with “Timmy’s soccer game 9 am” written in a delicate hand. Little white wicker baskets, neatly labeled, hold the children’s SHOES, TRAINS, LEGOS. I’m not kidding, I get misty-eyed with the notion that my own home could somehow be like this.
Ask me how many books I have (in a box in the garage) on the subject of organizing. Hmmm, let’s see if I can remember. Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? Organizing From The Inside Out. The Family Manager’s Everyday Survival Guide. (Okay, that one’s inside the house. Somewhere.) Now let’s look in the basket for magazines! Oh wait… I have to pull the dog toys out first… there you go. Storage Solutions. Better Homes and Gardens: get organized! 50+ ways to pare down, cut clutter, store more. Hey look, here’s an Oprah magazine from 2007.
Looking around the living room, where I do my writing, there is a basket of un-paired clean socks on the coffee table in front of me. Stacks of kid art poke out of the basket for the dog toys. (Oh yeah… that’s where they go.) My daughters’ laundry waits to be folded; in the meantime it rests on the back of the big chair. The Swiffer broom is, for some reason, on top of the dining room table.
Look, I’m busy, right? Who isn’t? Three kids, two dogs, and a tiny house. I’m exhausted the minute I walk in the door: it’s like there’s a vortex of disarray, threatening to suck me down in it, and I swim against its current madly and ineffectually. Last Christmas, when the kids were at their dad’s for a week, I spent the whole time cleaning and organizing the girls’ room. It’s April and you’d never know it. The cute little wicker baskets are in there; they just lie in the middle of the floor serving as houses for stuffed toys. The color-coded hangers are on the floor of the closet. The milk crate for Emma’s shoes is now a mini-bookcase that she keeps on her top bunk permanently. The shoes? Floor of the closet. Or in Claire’s milk crate. The toy chest just for dress-up clothes is now home to every Littlest Pet Shop playset that Target has to offer. Dress-up clothes?
Floor of the closet.
The girls really don’t care. They’re happy. My husband gets by, as long as the kitchen is navigable. My soon-to-be-teen son: haven’t seen him. He’s in his room until graduation, I guess.
But I continue to dream, because you have to have a dream to make it come true, right? If I just had the right baskets… if I just had those little color-coded thumbtacks…
So the lure of the Get Organized scam continues. Not long ago, I cruised the aisles of The Container Store, almost orgasmic at the possibilities. Oh, the sugar and flour canisters... a whole wall of them…
Somebody get me a cart.