Clutter And Responsible Spring Cleaning

Officially, spring begins this weekend.

Look around your home.  Is there some clutter you’d like to get rid of?  Most people prefer not to answer that question, but I feel as if I know you well enough…

In the past week, I have donated books and clothing, and found some worn out clothing that can go into a textiles bin.  So far, nothing which has been sitting around the apartment has gone into landfill, but I’ll forgive myself if that becomes necessary.

Until recently, a lot of us didn’t bother to sort anything we wanted to be rid of.  Concern for the environment changed that, and now there are recommended — in some cases, required — methods of discarding batteries, chemicals and other things which have a potential for causing harm if they’re thrown in the trash.

Professional home organizers are helpful when you have a small space or a huge amount of clutter.  Most of us can make an improvement without hiring anyone, though.  We don’t have to aim for perfection.  We just have to be realistic and think of how the current condition of our homes will impact our lives if (or when) our circumstances change.

I lived in a tiny studio apartment for nearly twenty-eight years.  I also began hoarding books when I got into the habit of buying them — new and used — faster than I could read them.

If you’re a genuine hoarder, parting with the excess is scary.  You’re always afraid you’ll donate, sell or discard something you’ll need later.  A book person will have those same feelings toward even the most common books which are easy to replace if they’re needed later.

A bedbug infestation in the building where I lived for nearly three decades compelled at least a couple of us to sort through things we’d owned for years.  To prepare our apartments for the pest control work, we had orders to wrap, pack and stack items including books which would be collected by a contractor who worked for the landlord.  The contractor charged us for garbage hauling, and I saw no proof the hauling was being handled right.  Were my books actually going to the landfill, or were they being left in a vacant lot somewhere?  I’ll never know.

We were told to stop wrapping when a pest control technician recommended heat treatment.  My next door neighbor and I never hugged each other, but we got darned close to hugging when we got the news.  Heck, we would have hugged the landlord, too, if that bum hadn’t been so good at avoiding tenants.  You’ll never understand the sense of relief my neighbor and I had unless you go through the same turmoil.

Later, when the landlord finally got his act together to pay for the heat treatment (and we were awash in insects), I was told at the last minute that the plan had changed again.  They’d be using chemical steam in my apartment, and gee, I should have wrapped and thrown out all of that stuff.

The chemical steam work was done without any more effort on my part, and by chance my apartment and remaining books were apparently bedbug-free for the rest of the time I lived there.  That was fortunate because it was one of those stages of life when all hell kept breaking loose with everything imaginable.  Getting an infestation out of the way was worth its weight in gold because it allowed me to focus better on other crises.

Since then, I have moved to a nicer building, and didn’t bring any critters with me.  I still remember the difficulties during the wait for the infestation to be treated, though.  Later, when I got ready to move in the second half of 2010, I found things which had gone unnoticed, including bank statements from the 1980s and other papers which weren’t shredded when they were supposed to be.

If we make the effort once or twice a year, we can avoid painting ourselves into the proverbial corner.  I can look back on the various traumas of 2009-2010 and be grateful for two things:

  1. I discovered the benefits of Zoloft.  A few years earlier I had tried the same drug (and another SSRI med), but it made me feel too weird to continue with treatment.  All of the stuff hitting the fan at the end of 2009 made me try the Zoloft again, though, and it didn’t cause the same side effects — as long as you don’t count the Bosch-like dreams, which weren’t as bad the second time around, either.

2. I learned I’m not that easy to kill.

Yeah, that’s about it.  Just two things, but they’re valuable things.

At the time, there were real regrets every time I woke in the morning, looked around at the overfilled studio and thought about the wrapping-packing-stacking routine for that day.  Better planning and perspective could have prevented a lot of it.

Do yourself a favor and set a reasonable goal for this year’s spring cleaning.  You can sort through the excess and decide what you can live without.  Some items can be donated, some sold, others recycled and a few things might have to go to landfill.  Use a crosscut shredder to destroy old documents, as long as you know they’re useless.  Then check the local paper recycler’s website for instructions on how to rid yourself of the confetti.

I’ve already shared too much personal information in this post, so please forgive me in advance for spilling my guts out one more time…

My mother passed shortly after the bedbug crisis, and before I moved.  My father had passed a few years earlier.  My parents kept everything, and it took a whole bunch of us a long time to plow through the old magazines, books, newspaper clippings, clothes, furniture, appliances, etc.  They bought their house in 1963, so just try to visualize what we were dealing with.

My parents, like me, had an extreme situation.  It was a complicated human thing, and just knowing we should take action wasn’t enough. Most people who have let stuff accumulate are better prepared to handle it, though.  My life is a lot better now, so I’m less inclined to hang onto books I don’t really want or need.

Getting a handle on the accumulation now isn’t nearly as daunting as what you — or your loved ones — will have to face after the problem goes unchecked for years.


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