Before kids, we had a master bedroom and two offices, one for me and one for Michael, on the second floor. When I was pregnant with my eldest daughter, I rearranged my office to hold a dresser and a crib. I was delusional enough to think I could share my office with the baby. And then I came home from my first baby shower with all the gadgets and gizmos of parenthood.
With each kid, we’ve made room—for all the toys and clothes and diapers and blankets. I swear my three children own more crap than I do. Our daughters have taken over the two bedrooms on the second floor. Our offices have been moved to the finished basement. We have squeezed into each square inch of our house. We are at a bursting point where we can’t bring in another item of furniture, or even a box of pizza, without taking something back out.
The trouble with owning so much stuff and not having enough room is clutter seeps out into the open. Desks become dumping grounds for school papers and bills. Dressers get covered in receipts and pocket lint and kids’ barrettes. Kitchen counters become a pantry for kids’ straws, extra paper towels, containers of cookies, and that bottle of Jack Daniels. Blankets stay crumpled on the couch. Shoes are taken off and left behind in the middle of the floor. Bags of recycling wait by the back entry. Piles of laundry sit folded and not put away. And toys litter every pathway of the house.
Broom and Dustpan Fantasy
Some days I turn in circles and hyperventilate as a voice in my head repeats, where to start, where to start, where to start? I want a quick fix. I want to wiggle my nose like Samantha on Bewitched and make it all disappear. I want a broom and dustpan the size of a Bobcat to scoop any item out of place and out of my life. In those moments, I don’t care if I just purchased that Doc McStuffins doll or if Grandma made that quilt or if I need that receipt for returns to Target. I don’t care if those newspapers could be recycled. I want to sweep all the clutter up, like bread crumbs on my kitchen floor, and say good riddance and not think too hard about the landfill.
I have had that broom-and-dustpan fantasy for so long that this spring I ordered a dumpster. I couldn’t wait. I imagined myself walking the house, filling garbage bags with a big giggle, opening spaces in my house that haven’t seen light in years. I imagined the process to be quick and decisive. I would conquer the shit in my house and be free once again.
Broom and Dustpan Reality
Removing some items has been easy. The broken kitchen chair went right in. But, unlike the person in my fantasy, I’m not that reckless. I don’t throw things out because they are in my way or pissing me off.
The process has been slow.
Last weekend, with the timer ticking on the dumpster rental, my husband got fired up. He walked each room ready to throw things out.
“Can we please get rid of this litter box?” he said. This was a purple plastic rectangle all cleaned and ready for another cat. Ours died years ago. I hesitated. It was a perfectly good litter box. “Please. No one else is going to want this.” He was right. I agreed.
He went into the storage closet in our basement. He pointed to the antique garbage can I inherited from my great aunt, someone who was like a grandma to me. “How about that?” he said. I don’t use the can, but it reminds me of happy days in my aunt’s kitchen. I told him no.
“How about that box spring?” he said.
“No,” I said. “We’ll need that in another year when our toddler is ready for her big girl bed.” He argued that we could buy another one then. I told him no.
He opened a cupboard in our kitchen. He said, “How about those cassette tapes?” He reached in to grab the four boxes of cassettes I’ve kept since I was a teen.
I stopped him. “I’ll go through them and try get rid of some.” He shut the cupboard door and sighed, reminding me how I don’t listen to those tapes and blah, blah, blah. I know he’s right. But I’m delusional enough to think I will skip Pandora and listen to my mixed tape from 1992 when cooking supper next week.
“How about ripping the tile in the bathroom?” he said. We’ve been meaning to update the tile around our tub since we moved in thirteen years ago. I told him I didn’t want to make a mess of the bathroom with three young kids undertow. We hadn’t even shopped for replacement tile yet, and who wants to live with a half-remodeled bathroom?
He shook his head and sat on the couch in defeat. He said, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good investment.” It was nearly 7 p.m., and we were about to get the kids ready for bed. We flipped a few channels and found Tangled starting on Disney. Our daughters asked if they could stay up and watch it.
Michael said, “Let’s rip up that carpet in the girls’ room.” It was the last bit of old carpet left in the house, and we had talked of ripping it out and refinishing the oak floor for years. He went to get the tools in the basement.
While we were upstairs, I heard Rapunzel singing, and my daughters laughing, happy they got to stay up late. We cut carpeting and ripped up padding and pulled the staples out of the oak—just so we had something to throw away.