Fighting Against Nature: How Not to Be a Mess

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Yesterday I had a conversation with Karl about personality traits we inherited from our parents, what Emerson has inherited from us. Emerson likes to keep her room clean, rarely (though more the older and more independent she becomes) bickers when we ask her to put away her toys before going to bed or out to play, hates sticky fingers or stains on clothing. “She surely didn’t get that from you!” my husband laughed. And he’s right. I’m a slob, I trail socks, scarves, and accessories behind me as I walk through the house. I always spill something on my blouse, and I've been known to be late to work because I can't find my left shoe.  With this cast, I’m very aware of the mess I make, trying to be better, less of a burden on my husband, less of a mess.

I’ve learned a few ways to be less of a slob. Take my shoes off as soon as I enter the house so I don’t track mud and it also makes it easier to find both shoes, and gather shoes to store back in my closet. Keep things in the same place always so it’s easy to know where to store (and find!) clean yoga pants from the dryer, a new magazine, last year’s taxes, thank you cards, reusable tote bags, birthday candles. But the biggest lesson I learned is the less you own, the less chance for a mess.

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If I try something on in my closet and I no longer like it or it no longer fits, it’s removed immediately. If I think I may like it again, I’ll store it in my attic and revisit it with my next seasonal closet cleanup. Otherwise, it’s gone – sold, donated, given to a friend. If it keeps real estate in my closet, I’ll try to figure out how to justify it, to make it work. It’s better to have two outfits that always work than 200 garments that take a lot of effort.

One item in, one item out is often advice for wardrobes, but I also do it with other parts of my life. Must have that paperweight? Then I need to get rid of that brass star doo-hicky. New salt and pepper shakers means the old ones are Freecycled. When I store something in our file cabinet, I flip through folders to see what I can purge. This also curbs spending; if I can’t think of what to remove maybe I don’t really want or need that new knickknack.

Clean each time. My lingerie drawer gets littered with hang tags and the little plastic things that secured them to clothes; when putting away laundry I scoop all those up and also do a quick search for underwear past its prime or socks that have been orphans for far too long. When I put away groceries, I do it with a rag and spray bottle of white vinegar so I can scrub off a maple syrup thumbprint from the cupboard or spilled barbecue sauce in the refrigerator door. We have an art drawer; when I put away coloring books and pipe cleaners I clean out crayon nubs, dried out markers, crumpled and discarded doodles.

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Lose sentimentality. They’re things, only things. If there was a natural disaster and you only had moments, what would you take with you? Your family, your pets, what else? When I seriously thought about that and realized everything REALLY meaningful I could toss in a backpack, I felt free. Do I really need every note my high school boyfriends sent me? Three sorority billboard letters sweatshirts? That expensive crystal bowl we never use but was a wedding gift? My interview suit from 2007 with the torn pant lining? All Emerson’s baby clothes? I started treating all these things like Emerson’s baby book (one of the things that would go in that backpack): keep the most memorable in the most compact manner. One note from the high school boyfriend tucked in my yearbook, one college sweatshirt in the attic, and one Rubbermaid tub for Emerson’s baby and childhood clothes, constantly reassessing to be sure I keep only the memorable, the best. The rest… gone. Take a picture, write a journal entry, snip a square for posterity but let go of the rest.

All this makes sense for your closet. The fewer items you own, the easier it is to dress each day. The less you buy, the more money you have for the right thing when it comes along. Sentimentality is fine, but best when stored away and not mixed with your present. With a sparse closet, you have to be creative, you have to put thought into purchases, and treat garments with care.

I am spending a good part of my convalescence parting with excess and parting with mess.  I feel lighter, less burdened, less of a mess, and it's a hell of a lot easier getting dressed each morning!

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