Friday, August 24, 2007

Out of the Closet

by Cathy Corn

Two of my regular female massage clients tell me how they clean out their closets and give away items they no longer use. As a wave of envy overcomes me, I murmur, "How nice." I greatly admire these ladies, for closet cleaning doen't come naturally to me. Honestly, I've tried.

My clothes closet represents a feng shui nightmare. The eight-foot wide jungle is jammed with items depicting various eras of my life. When I've attempted deforestation, I pick out a few things to cast off, then conveniently forget to ever work on it again.

There's the bookcase jammed into the back with my nursing books from 1973. Let's face it, medicine's changed since then. I've collected the small boxes from all my jewelry purchases so that I could start a home boutique if I wanted to. Lost, uncatalogued treasures inhabit the corners as well as maybe six manuscripts in Kinko boxes.

The epitome of all this sludge, though, is the wedding dress from my first marriage, which was long and unhappy and provided me with suffering so I'd have something to write about (the marriage, not the dress, though it was long, too). My mother created the dress with loving care. Once I decided to get rid of it and made the mistake of first mentioning it to Mother. After her long, pained silence, I jammed the dress back into the closet right beside the prom dresses from 1968 and 1969. (Did you all wear those poofy updos to the prom? Those dos that rivaled that of the bride of Frankenstein? Lee, Brian, and Mike need not respond.)

On a happier note, when I left my first husband 23 years ago, I left a lot of stuff behind. It's a quick and easy way to declutter one's life on many levels. Alas, the clutter returned (but not the husband).

So my fellow Sisters, whether the glut of items is related to your writing space, your garage, or backyard shed, what confessions have you to make? Or what handy tips can you share?

Can you give us a story of how excess things inhabit your life? Or how you conquered the unsightly mess and still wrote, sold, and marketed the great American novel?


Gina said...

Cathy, I can identify! My house is jam packed with stuff.

I thought I got past it when the place caught fire in 1994, but almost everything came back, albeit smoked and watered. There's no need to get rid of a slightly moldy set of encyclopedias from the 1960s, is there?

When my ex- moved into an efficiency, he left his stuff in the basement. It's still there -- we got divorced in 1985 and the fire was confined to the second and third floors; major water damage never reached below the first. Someone may want those ruffly shirts some day, right?

Not to mention my grandmother's and aunts' stuff that migrated to my house with my mother's after her death. I mean, what do you do with a cedar chest full of hand-made afghans? Paintings done by relatives?

Then there's the untunable Irish harp built by a guy I lost contact with 30 years ago -- the Internet is no help; Smith is such a common name.

Last but not least, these heaps of unsold manuscripts in my writing room. Yikes.

Tory said...

Moving twice, two years apart, helped me to unclutter. The stuff that had been destroyed by moths was easy. What I did with the other stuff was acknowledge its emotional value, then see what I could keep that would have the same emotional value but use up the least amount of space.

I reduced my Dad's stuff to shoebox size. It includes his slide rule: he was an engineer turned mathematician, and the marks on the leather case show it was definitely well-used (hard to imagine in these days of computers!) I also have a medal of his from WWII and a zipped leather case of glass vials (I'm assuming for samples of some sort?) I have this idea of some day using those bottles for aromatherapy. You know, how things get passed on: the same and yet different?

I've kept the half-dozen quilts my grandmother made but never edged. Some day (maybe retirement?) I plan on finding a way to make them into wall hangings or otherwise show them off in my house.

The one collection I've utterly failed to prune is my wonderful dance dresses from when I was eating macrobiotic and (*#@?!) pounds lighter than I am now. I can dream, can't I?

Annette said...

It's that whole nature abhors a vacuum thing. I go on a de-cluttering campaign, smile at the results, turn away...but when I turn back, more clutter has jumped in to take the place of the old stuff. You cannot win. Once a pack rat, always a pack rat.

mike said...

Apartment-hopping every two or three years was a great incentive for getting rid of what little clutter I'd accumulated. THen I bought a house and found room for all my books and small collection of tangible memories...and 18 years later I'm wondering what the hell happened! At some point I suspect I'll get tired of dusting everything and cart it all to Goodwill.

But, oh, the books! We were just talking about this at our critique group Wednesday, Cathy, about how hard it is to get rid of stuff, esp. books. I have 3 boxes of books in the basement I keep meaning to get rid of, but just can't seem to let go.

brenda said...

What is it about us creative types that makes us accumulate stuff?? I always figure that people who are excessively neat are also excessively boring!!!!

Nancy said...

We once lived in a neighborhood that had a gigantic garage sale every May. It was a brilliant way to get rid of all kinds of junk---kid clothes & toys and whatnot. And downsizing to a smaller house is a big help, too. But now we've been here 6 years and no garage sale. I keep looking at the closets and thinking I should do something but . . . It's so daunting!

ps. I'll take any prom dresses. My kids loved playing dressup and I continue the build the collection for my grandkids. (Yes, I still have my prom dresses! And my sister's! And bridesmaids gowns and-----Good God, I just realized. What if I have grandSONS??

mike said...

Nancy--You gotta get out more often! The Highland Park Yard Sale is held the first Sunday of June. The neighborhood crawls with bargain-hunters. I've gotten rid of all kinds of stuff, and picked up some great bargains too--like the two perfectly good Windsor back side chairs for $3.00!

lisa curry said...

Cathy, I'm a pack rat, too. I still have clothes from the '80s and '90s that I can't bear to part with. Mostly work/business apparel that I really liked. I keep telling myself those styles will come back around someday, just like platform shoes and wedgie heels did.

Nancy, don't worry about having grandsons. Little boys like to dress up too, and as long as they're not still doing it when they're 16, I don't think you need to worry about it. (And besides, those prom dresses would make great Halloween costumes for teenage boys.) One day several years ago when I was busy writing, the boys got into my lingerie drawer and were playing dress-up. It kept them occupied, so I didn't care, but what I didn't know was that the older one got the camera and was taking pictures of the younger one. I just about fell over when I had the roll of film developed and found pictures of Sean in nothing but sheer pink stretch-lace pants. I'm lucky I didn't get arrested for kiddie porn!

Cathy said...

Well, gang, now I don't feel as bad about it, now that I know I have such wonderful company. Maybe we could have a benefit for Sisters in Crime: Gina could play the untunable Irish harp. Mike could sell used books. Nancy, Tory, and I could model antique prom and dancing dresses. And Lisa will display her oldies work attire collection (I pass on the lingerie thing--what a hoot).

I agree whole heartedly with your comments, Annette and Brenda. So I guess I'll remain creatively cluttered.

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

I have yet to sell the great American novel, but I still write and publish.

My biggest problem? My books. My husband built me a library for all my books. So he is quite dismayed to find that it is full, the bookshelves in the bedroom, living room and family room are full. The area under the stairs has books that I thought I could live without for awhile, as long as I didn't have to give them away. The stacks of books artistically arranged in baskets and in piles next to the couches, on the entertainment center . . . oh, need I go on.

See, I have this theory. My father was an alcoholic, my brother is a drug addict, and me . . . oh yeah, I'm addicted to books. Fiction, Nonfiction . . . it doesn't matter. I actually have to drive down different streets to avoid the bookstores unless I absolutely MUST have a particular book.

I think I have a problem. BUT, I still manage to write and publish.

Cathy said...

Great to hear from you. What are the names of some of your published works?