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What Would Erma Do?
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
Every so often, I walk through my house, completely amazed that at one point, five people used to live here. Iím the last one here, and so is most of my stuff. And sometimes I feel ashamed.
When I went to Puerto Rico a little more than a year ago, my fatherís cousinís apartment looked mostly the same as from my last visit. That is, uncluttered. She had new living room furniture, but the clutter just wasnít there. The place looked lived in, but I was impressed that 18 years in the same apartment yielded relative neatness. At one point, it was just my fatherís cousin living there, but her son came back to the island and moved in with her. His room seemed uncluttered too.
I was wondering if perhaps it was the culture. Or perhaps just her budget. My fatherís cousin works hard, but like a lot of the people on the island, sheís underpaid. Maybe when you donít have a lot of disposable income, your clutter factor goes down. One of her daughters who still lives on the island has a very nice place to live. It was very nicely furnished and blessedly cool, but I knew it wouldnít be the kind of place I could live in, even if I could afford it. My fatherís cousin felt the place was ďtoo sterile.Ē I understood what she meant; even if you really didnít want to eat off the floor, I much preferred my fatherís cousinís place, which was two and a half blocks from the beach and the kind of place where you wouldnít be guilt-ridden if you tracked sand in the house.
Anyway, I have been thinking about living spaces recently, because Iíve been doing quite a bit of work on my own. Iíve cleaned part of my room, put new shelves up, painted my bathroom, painted part of the living room, and painted the kitchen cabinets and drawers underneath the counter. But the domestic demon I fear I will never conquer is clutter. I love to read, so usually whatever reading materials I buy or are given to me, I keep. So just about every flat surface has some sort of book, magazine or newspaper on it. I bought a stylish box to hold my mail, which Iíve put on a front table near the door. You guessed it: the box is overflowing with three purses, junk mail, a tin box (to hide smaller clutter) a shirt, several uninflated balloons (I was going to give them out last Halloween, until I went out between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.) a Continuing Studies catalog from IPFW, a booklet of vendors from Shipshewana, a half-dozen copies of the Fort Wayne Reader, a black Sharpie, a pedometer and six Maple The Bear Teenie Beanie Babies, all topped with a Notre Dame hoodie.
A friend of mine who also lives alone has the same problem. She usually volunteers to have get-togethers at her house, because it means she has to clean before everyone comes over. Most of the time though, when I come over, sheís all like, ďsorry the house is trashed.Ē No apologies needed. As someone who leaves her craft supplies all over the dining room table for weeks, I well understand how things can pile up.
But I canít understand how one person can accumulate such a huge amount of crap. When I was working three jobs, often days would go by before I sorted through mail, or did the dishes, or swept or did a load of laundry. It all got put back for the weekend, and since I was too exhausted to do really big jobs, just the bare minimum got done. Fortunately this summer, Iíve had more time to work on the major things, like clean underneath my bed. I can actually see floor space in my bedroom now, something I thought Iíd never see again. Iím getting storage boxes so things donít just end up on the floor, and smaller containers so I can deflect some of the clutter on the bookshelves into some sense of order.
There are people who donít understand the clutter problem. Either they donít care about acquisition, or they have enough storage space, either in a garage or basement so things can be packed away. As a result, their living space resembles a museum, everything just so, with the accent pieces standing starkly against the perfectly matched furniture. My former boss had a house like this. The place always looked so perfect, the only way I could tell it was in the process of being cleaned was the day the cleaning woman was working there. Any other time, there wasnít any clutter to speak of, anywhere. And the house always smelled the same, except on cleaning day, when the odor of cleaning products permeated the air. By the next day though, the house looked and smelled the same as it did the week before.
So if you ever come to my house, donít be surprised if the lamp table has the usual literary sculpture vs. empty glass contest going on. Iíll try to clear off the coffee table so you can put your drink there. Unless Iím in the middle of doing my laundry, of course. If I am, youíll just have to hold on to your glass, because a clean pile of underwear nice and warm from the dryer is a joy to behold. And makes a lovely centerpiece.