Organizer, heal thyself!

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Last weekend I only had one little chore on my “to do” list. It said, “Clean a cabinet.” I’ve been systematically working my way through each room of the house doing a general “purge” – out with the old, outgrown or broken stuff and in with the new – and the home office was the only room left to tackle.

The home office has a wall of built-in cabinets that are wonderful for storage, except when they’re so full of stuff that you can’t store anything in them. So I decided to clean out one cabinet every couple of days so that the whole room would be organized in a week or so. Easy peasy, right?

But then I opened that first cabinet door and realized my husband has been keeping a secret. He’s a hoarder, a very specific type of hoarder. The first cabinet was stuffed full of outdated, broken or malfunctioning electronics. I wondered if this was the only cabinet with electronic cast-offs, so I foolishly opened a second cabinet.

It was like pulling a loose thread on a sweater. Soon the whole room unraveled into a jumble of ancient cassette recorders, prehistoric iPods, a discarded GPS, video recorders, dead office printers, headphones, all kinds of speakers and a computer monitor that makes everything look green.

wires tangledProtruding from every piece of electronic equipment were at least three or four long cords – wiry, tangled tentacles reaching into the cabinet depths.

All the gadgets looked vaguely familiar but none of them worked, and all had been replaced by newer technologies over the years. So why were they still here, lurking around in cabinet purgatory?

When Tom came in from the yard, I pointed to the electronics and cords I’d begun to sort into piles all over the floor. “Why are we keeping these?” I asked. “None of them work.”

“Well, you never know when you might need a part or a cord or a connector off of one of these things,” he said.

I gave him the kind of disapproving, dubious look that says, “Seriously? We can’t let this house turn into a big pile of ‘just in case I might need it one day.’” So he reluctantly agreed to help me sort through the piles, designating which piles could be recycled. He did, however, stubbornly cling to a few stereo speakers and one box he’d stuffed full of miscellaneous cords.

Having promised to love him in organizational sickness and in health, I put the box of beloved cords back into a cabinet and agreed to just let it go. It reminded me of the time I helped my parents purge their kitchen cabinets in preparation for a move and discovered my mother’s Tupperware affliction. She’d amassed tons of it over the years but was in the habit of keeping and reusing every Cool Whip container she ever bought. (And the woman bought a LOT of Cool Whip.) Ironically, her storage spaces were stuffed full of empty storage containers.

Just as I was congratulating myself on not having these types of irrational hoarding tendencies, I opened the third cabinet. Behind door number three was a virtual mountain of spiral notebooks – some dating back to 1993. I counted them up and there were more than 35 of them, most with less than half of the pages filled with my handwriting.

One page had a schedule of what times of day our first son had bowel movements during the potty-training phase. Several pages had doodles or grocery lists or Christmas shopping checklists on them. Not exactly fascinating stuff, right?

I should have tossed them all out – dumped the towering stack of them into the recycle bin. But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. What if, tucked inside one of those old, dusty notebooks, was a scrap of an idea that might lead to a great column? Or a short story? Or even a book? What if I needed that idea one day?

Thankfully, old notebooks stack up much more neatly than jumbled cords and dead office printers. So I straightened the stack and quietly tucked it back into the cabinet – shutting the door on my own little “just in case” goldmine. Let’s keep this between you and me. Agreed?

What’s in your cabinet?

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