Sunday, July 6, 2008


..."that's the whole meaning of life isn't it, trying to find a place for your stuff..' George Carlin

RO: All right, maybe not the whole meaning of life, but there are times when the dear departed GC seems to be right on the money.
I suffer from it in silence all year long, but once or twice a year I have a full-blown outbreak of TMS - too much stuff. Which, as Carlin pointed out, you have to store, move, clean, worry about, etc.
My solution to this affliction hit me a few years back when I had some work done on my house. There was a giant dumpster parked in my driveway for months. One day I tossed in a small item, ...who remembers, a broken flower pot or garden tool. A light bulb went off. I started combing the closets looking for small things to throw away that wouldn't get in the way of the sheet rock. Then I asked the contractor if it would be alright for me to throw in a wicker lounge chair that was threatening to fall apart. He looked at me like I was crazy - "It's your dumpster."
I flung the rickety chair into the dumpster. I was briefly overjoyed. Then I climbed in and took it out. Had I made a mistake? I'd made a similar one when a friend told me he knew how to use a chainsaw and the sight of him shirtless caused me to say "sure, take down that one, too." (I've spent five years trying to fill in that spot in my garden.) Two days later the lounge chair made it back into the dumpster.

Now every 2-3 years I rent a 6ft dumpster. But I'm smart enough to have a staging area. If an item sits in the driveway for 2 days, it goes in the dumpster. I've had neighbors come by and ask if they can go dumpster diving.
The dumpster is in the driveway....

JAN: I have often thought that the real appeal of vacation homes isn't the fabulous beach or ski mountain. It's the fact that there isn't that much of your stuff there. So you feel so much freer.
At any rate, I once subscribed to Flylady, which is sort of a manic housewife gone wild. She sends you daily emails, which can be irritating. But the one of most value was the one that made you go throw out something like 33 things in your house each week. It's so much easier than you think and it feels really good. Unfortunately, Flylady also wanted me to keep my kitchen sink clean and POLISHED. And when I tried that, I started to develop hostility toward anyone else who used the kitchen sink. Husband, kids, strangers who wanted to wash their hands.... Anyway, Flylady had to go. But now that you mention it....maybe I'll go throw out 33 things in her honor.

RO: Any significance to the number 33? Was she drinking Rolling Rock at the time? I think that's the number on the back of the bottle. BTW..I threw out 6 pairs of shoes and 4 handbags today. I feel as if I lost weight. That means I have 23 items to go.

JAN: I'm guessing Flylady for a daiquiri girl or maybe a whisky sour or mint julep. Definitely not beer. And I'm not exactly sure it was 33. It could have been 27. It was definitely a two digit, odd number, though. Memory is good for that much.

HALLIE: When Jan started saying "the real appeal of vacation homes isn't the fabulous beach or ski mountain..." I was sure she was going to say that the appeal is that they provide space for all the overflow junk that has no place in your home.
My husband has a terrible time throwing things away, and I try to ignore it--seems trivial relative to the pleasure he brings me on most other fronts. But we did have a small breakthrough when he threw away a teeny weeny red polo shirt that his mother had sewn a nametag into the collar. We're talking junior high. I told my daughter Molly about it and she immediately asked if it had already been picked up because she wanted it.
Definitely genetic.

RO: Oooh, I can't believe he threw that away. That was a keeper.

ROBERTA: OOh Ro, we have a dumpster in our driveway too. But I would never order one on purpose! This is related to construction to repair some chronic leaks. I'm going down to the basement now and start to work on my 33/27. Question: if you throw away a pair of shoes, that counts as two items, right? And do they count double if they belong to my husband? (Ro: Absolutely!)
And this brings up a separate but related question. When is it ok to clear stuff out of your grown kid's room and make it into a decent guest room? I was astonished to learn that one of my friends completely renovated her daughter's room last summer as she was getting married. (She was 22.) I'm not suggesting tossing those grade school soccer trophies into the dumpster, just maybe move them to a box in the attic???

And hey, we can make this topic into a pact: In order to post on JRW, you have to report what you threw out:)

HANK: Whoa. Am I the wrong one to talk to. I have: playbills from all the plays we've seen. That's LOTS of plays. Tee-shirts emblazoned wtih every event I've gone to. I mean: BOXES of tshirts. (Bruce Springsteen at Fenway. The Police at Foxboro. The original HELP T-shirt with the Beatles from 1967 or whenever. The 1980 Olympics/CBS News (I worked for a CBS station then) when it turned out the US didn't go.)

It's Mom's fault. She threw away all my Beatle magazines and DC comics and MAD MAgazines from the 60's, and wouldn't they be worth a lot now? So you never know what's going to be valuable. I always say.

Our problem, if it's a problem, we have a third floor. It used to be an apartment, but after the lovely teacher who lived there moved, I decided we needed the room. Rooms. So: the living room is now a guestroom. One bedroom is storage. We won't go into that. (Wrapping paper. Gifts for all occasions. Stacks of books written by pals that I give as presents. Toys for all ages, jsut in case somene comes over who needs a toy.The out-of-season slipcovers.) One room is a cedar closet. One room is: oh, I can't even reveal this. Shoes and purses.

Last week I gave ten mammothly huge bags of clothing to a church charity. I mean--lots of great stuff. And it was so exciting. I'm now craving to get rid of stuff. Can't wait to clear it out. Shoes count as ONE thing, you guys.

And let me tell you--it's fantastic karma to give things away. Do it.

So question for you. How many white tee shirts does one person need?

And I agree, Roberta. Tell.

RO: And what gave you the most pleasure to get rid of...This time it was a chaise cushion that had somehow turned into my husband's blankie. It was disgusting. And now it's gone :-)


  1. Ohhhh... I'm not touchin' this one with ten foot pole! Okay, I will.

    I actually have threatened to have a dumpster dropped off in my driveway!

    I'm sure if I did, my wife would have a smile on her face for the rest of this century - maybe even a few decades longer!

    It's really funny. This is part of my journey as a writer. I need to revamp my office and office space to support my authorhsip.

    Unfortunately, for me, many times the decision has come down to - continue to work on your writing or take a "small" side trip and save some lives. Literally, it comes down to exactly that. The device I am working with has over 30 testimonials stating that it saved their lives in rollover crash. And, then there is the military work I just finished to save lives in Iraq.

    So, you ask, what does this have to do with tossing stuff out? After Elizabeth Lyon's comments, it seems to me I need to focus on writing and I need the space for that. I just bought a 22" Dell monitor that gives enough real estate to have both the manuscript AND my plotting/storyboard software up.

    However, my office in it's current configuration is overun with all manner of technical goodies, final reports from 3 or 4 years ago, income taxes for my business etc. etc. My file drawers are stuffed.

    I need to generate a functional writing area that supports theme generation, plotting, character development etc. etc...

    Where or where did I leave my shovel???

    What I told my wife is that once you realize the cost of these attachments in terms of interrupting who you wish to become there really is no decision to make is there?


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  3. Hey Mike,
    I'm thinking of reorganizing my office, too, in the hopes it will faciliate an easier transition into writing. I love writing. I just hate to start writing. I'm not sure a physical reorg will do the trick, though. Maybe need a mental reorg.

    HANK, I agree shoes count as one.
    More than seven white t-shirts is probably too many.

    And Roberta, I can report an important toss. Last week, I threw away a never worn, Ann Taylor blouse. I actually bought it to wear to my mother's wake (its dark colored print) and It's a really, really lovely blouse, a classic style that never goes out, but my mother died six years ago, and I still haven't worn it..... So FINALLY,I gave it to the Goodwill. You think it was time?

  4. Going to count t-shirts now....
    Do you mean seven short sleeved, seven long sleeved and seven v-necked? And do "new" and "Already-worn" count separately?

    Good for you on the blouse donation, Jan.. You know that means a lovely wonderful blouse is coming your way, right?

  5. Good move on the blouse Jan! And I would like to report excellent progress in my stepson's room. When I suggested we look things over this weekend (euphemism for clear this trash out,) he came up with the concept of "if I don't want it in my new apartment, why keep it here?"

  6. I love white tee shirts. You don't want to talk to me about white tee shirts, Hank, because then I'd just become your enabler.

    In summer,I live in Gap or Ann Taylor white all-cotton tee shirts. Ralph Lauren used to make a wonderful one, cut just right, and then stopped. ::sniff::

    I was a packrat until I got divorced in '92, and suddenly -- childless and single -- I was eager to be free of "stuff." Not just marriage stuff, but all the accumulated oh-gee-remember-this stuff from my childhood and adolescence. Why was I keeping a candy wrapper from a first date with a guy I later learned like to stalk his teachers with binoculars? I mean ... REALLY ... do I *need* that watermelon Jolly Rancher wrapper and its accumulated juju?

    I think not.

    These days I'm savage about either repurposing something or getting rid of it. I need "room to breathe", as the Japanese put it, in my closets, in my office, in my head.

    Someone recommended a great fung shui book on this that I lept into with a glad cry, balking only when the chapter on the placement of the bed with respect to the windows transitioned to a chapter on the state of my bowels and the virtues of the high colonic. Wasn't really ready to go there with a fung shui book. So I got rid of it and the room felt much lighter, afterward. :-)

  7. Love it! Getting rid of the Feng Shui book is very meta. And certainly means you have achieved the highest plane.

    Thank you for being my enabler. I can't think of many people I'd rather have. Yes, Gaps are terrific, but they sometimes get twisty after you wash them. I'm kind of a JCrew girl. Can we now talk about white linen shirts?

  8. I'm putting off starting book three until I can see some wood (the surface of my desk) in the office. It is the same as brain clutter...all those business cards, articles torn out of papers..things I printed out from the inteernet and still haven't read. Gotta go.

    Re white linen shirts. Hank, my darlin' you - and Roger Federer, who makes my heart go pitter pat...and once I get over the shock of his losing I will blog about him - look fabulous in them. I OTOH should be physically prevented from buying any white clothing. I am an absolute magnet for olive oil. Someone at the next table at dinner can have it on his salad and it will wind up on me. Now, black is another story. You can never have too many articles of clothing - or shoes - that are black.

  9. But don't you feel guilty about throwing things away instead of recycling them -- or giving them to someone else to recycle? Sustainability is the new chic.
    I read recently that the world's scientists belive we have only 10 years to make major policy shifts to save the planet. Does it begin in our closets... or messy offices?

  10. I hear ya, but I got a reality check when Goodwill gave me a list of things they wouldn't take ..including most clothing, bookcases, etc. I even registered with Freecycle, but couldn't bring myself to invite hordes of people to my home for free plastic garden chairs. Most of what's in the dumpster deserves to be there...stuff I thought I'd fix and never did, lattice from that never built pergola, broken plates for that mosaic project that's been on hold for five years...

  11. Speaking of too much stuff--you're so timely, RO--anyone see

    (My grandson Eli was here this weekend..and I got to be with him at his very first movie.)

  12. Please..I'm so timely I haven't seen a movie since Atonement. I did just score tix for the All-Star game though...

  13. My husband's a pack rat so when we had outside work done with a huge dumpster trekked in, I got up early and hauled all his garbage out of the garage and dumped it. That was last spring and he still hasn't missed it. I'm a minimalist, btw. And I'm with Rosemary on white. A chunk of pasta sauce will land in the vicinity of my boob every time.

  14. Jan

    It's as important to make physical space for things as mental space. So, create the physical space and that act itself will create the mental space.

    It was no accident for me that Rosemary picked this topic. It was exactly what I had been thinking about for the last few weeks.

    This series of posts, has been very powerful for me. And, as Hank would say - Imagine that!

  15. It's not hard to get rid of my own stuff. I don't spend much money, so I don't have much stuff. Even books, sigh, even books I can donate to the library. Before the last move I was able to get rid of about six bookcases.

    But other people's stuff, that is hard. Kids are the worst! That's not a piece of trash, Gram, that's artwork. Yes, it did start out as a used paper towel, but now it's got crayola on it, see? So, eventually, I laid down the law: no art work too big to go into the file cabinet.

    I also had a bunch of old, unfinished mss, and they were weighing me down, mentally--can't start a new one till I finish X. I bought a scanner and scanned the whole shebang into the computer, then threw out the paper copies. Now I know I'll lose track of the scanned files, too, but that will be okay. It's the same thing as putting leftovers in the fridge till they spoil, and THEN throwing them out. Much easier than throwing out perfectly good food. I don't have a desk, just a notebook computer and the ceaseless urge to roam. I used to have a desk, but we didn't get along.

  16. I cleaned out two file drawers today and filled two grocery bags with papers and magazines for the church-around-the-corner's recycle bin. That bin has saved me from the guilt of throwing out paper that's blank on one side. I have enough one-sided paper to print nine drafts of War & Peace--double-spaced.

    My other best friends are Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Epilepsy Foundation and the Vietnam Veterans. Whenever one of them has a truck coming to town, I scrounge for stuff to give away. If they'd come three times as often, I might make some real progress.

    My father-in-law was the biggest pack-rat of all, so we've named our basement storage area "The John H. Walsh Memorial Room." Artifacts include a box of my high school formals, a crib mobile and busy-box, and warranties for appliances we don't have anymore.

    We are truly
    ruled by our stuff.

    Hank, hold onto that Olympics 1980 tee-shirt. That could be a collector's treasure.

    Hallie, my husband has two modes: Save it forever (or for the yard sale we never have) and Get rid of it now. His specialty is throwing out one piece of a multi-piece item. He just tried to pitch the cover to the old turtle sandbox, which he stashed in the garage about 10 years ago for, duh, the yard sale. Oh, and he can't resist a free coffee mug.

    It's a good thing you don't live near me, Ro, or I'd be diving into your dumpster or at least thinning out your staging area. To save my marriage, I've had to take a solemn oath not to stop at yard sales.

    Jan, Flylady sounds like my old neighbor, who never brought anything into the house without throwing three things out. She put a new 10x12 Berber carpet in the trash because the color didn't go as well she thought it would. Naturally, I asked if I could stash it in my garage. I did find a home for it in the school library.

    Roberta, my problem now is kids coming home from college with more stuff than they had when they left. There's a big
    TV sitting in front of my fireplace this summer, because our minivan was the only vehicle big enough to haul it away from school. On the other hand, we also have summer custody of the tower fan that is cooling me off as I type this.

    OK, trash day is Wednesday. I bet I can find 33 things to throw out. But will I?

  17. I'm a storage unit. Over the last two years, I've had several family members move. My 86-year-old parents downsized into a two-bedroom apartment and then, after Mom died last Dec, I moved Dad into a one bedroom. ALL of their stuff came here, for me to deal with (I have a bro in Calif).

    Then last year, my young adult daughter needed to move back home (actually in an apartment-like unit behind my house) to regroup--and brought her stuff. Then her brother had some situations and I got half of his stuff (his dad got the other half and our son).

    This topic is exactly what's been on my mind. Earlier today, I thought about a local company named "Junk Be Gone." They'll come take it all. But I have this depression-era "it might be useful someday" consciousness mixed with the reuse-recycle one that makes me have to keep stuff out of the waste stream.

    And fessing up, I have way too much of my own junk. In my early 20s, I used to think, "When my complexion clears up, I'll get married." It did and I did. In my 30s, I thought, "If my desk and office ever get completely cleaned up, a place for everything and everything in its place, I'll probably be ready to die." I consider my deskS CREATIVE CHAOS. I admire all of you brave souls who order the dumpsters. You've inspired me. Tomorrow, I get rid of a dozen whatevers. What's your address?

  18. Hey Deb,
    We should wear bibs the next time we go out to dinner! I'm so glad to learn that I'm not the only one with "stuff" issues. MTV, you're sounding very Buddhist..I like that.

  19. Elizabeth,
    I have that depression-era thing, too. In fact, for a while I thought I was the only babyboomer saddled with both environmental guilt (how will the world despose of all this trash?) AND depression guilt (If I throw it away and have to buy it again, and that will be such a waste).
    But my mother, the ultimate packrat and heavily influenced by living through the depression, put shelves in the garage and stored extra canned and boxed food. She called it her "grocery store." But when she died, all that food had to go into the dumpster -- it was too old to even give away to a homeless pantry. The lesson I learned: Sometimes hoarding is the ultimate waste.

  20. Lest anyone think I am the complete Celia cruz (who reputedly only wore each dress once and then threw it away) I confess to routinely going shopping in my closet. Jeez that may be a whole other blog. I find stuff there that's NWT that I forgot I bought because it was crammed in the closet with other items that look just like it. I never thought of it as depression-era mentality, more like 80's Material Girl. BTW, there used to be something called Dress for Success, where you could donate work outfits. (Pat's got me feeling guilty...I may be climbing back into that dumpster!)

  21. I about spit my coffee out when Jan started talking about the Flylady. I loved her for awhile, but my family hated her. It wasn't just the ploished sink, it was the "area cleaning" that got them. She has this system where you rotate around your house cleaning a different area for a set period of time each day for a week then move on. Well, I was so pleased with myself about my cleaned area, that I didn't want anyone to use or even pass through that area. I was not a nice person to live with.
    Alas, Flylady had to go.
    As for tossing stuff? I could use a dumpster.
    When we were fresh out of college and newlyweds, we lived in Delaware, Ohio for two years. We didn't unpack a lot of boxes in that time because we knew we weren't staying. so those boxes plus more went on to Grand Rapids, Michigan-to the basement to be forgotten until 7 years later when those boxes that had remained sealed in Ohio and Michigan were joined by even more in our basement in St. Louis-24 years ago. Yes, that's right, we have boxes of stuff stored in our basement in boxes that have been sealed since they left Purdue 33 years ago, Ohio 31 years ago, and Michigan 24 years ago.

  22. Caryn

    I had to laugh. Amazing the things we save. My natural father was a Dr. In fact, my script "American Siblings" is about him, me and my half sister. Anyway, I have boxes from when he died in 1978, from when I moved to Detroit in 1968 and boxes from my office when I left Ford. I have notes from my father about how he used Vit A, C and E to assist people in ... get this 1942!!! So, in some ways - it would seem historic. Still, it's stuff. How do you get the guts to clean the slate?


    As you can see there is a gulf between talking Buddhist and actually acting Buddhist! Although, I will say, acting locally for me is easier. Here's the criteria - What is my present task? What is in my way? Where can I put it? If I'm out of space as I define it - something must go! Otherwise - there is no room in your life for new and fresh.

    Here's a real motivator - Stuff
    THAT'S HOW PEOPLE GET OLD - look around - the "old" people - how do they act - stiff - burdened - almost immobile. By the way I'm not judging - just observing. That life is definitely not for me. I get to chose.

    So... if you need to see wood to get going on that third book ... see wood, baby. I'm behind you all the way!!!

    Here's a little rap I wrote for the tiddiers:

    I was sittin' by my desk in funk
    Oh, baby it was the junk
    Surrounded me and brought me down
    Wow, I thought I'd drown

    But a little Buddha man showed me my light
    Gave me the power, gave me the might
    I needed to see wood, If I could
    That third book hidden from sight
    But that's all right
    Now I'm ready to bring it to the light!!!

    Yo, bro - I'm on my way
    Livin' and lovin'
    and feelin' okay!!!

  23. Do you all know about 1-800-GOT-JUNK? It's not a cheap service, but you call them out and point to the things you want to get rid of, and some young men in nice uniforms take the stuff away. Whatever is still in good shape they take to a charity. In LA, they donated to Out Of The Closet, a resale shop. Fridge, heavy oak bedroom furniture, etc. whisked away. Guiltlessly.

  24. Caryn,
    Yes, I was a pretty easy going room-mate/wife/mom until Flylady came into my life. Then, for a very short period, I became a Nazi. But very short. Not because its so much work, which it is, but because you have to be wired a certain way to care so much about polished sinks and perfect order that you are willing to do the screaming required to maintain order.

    Or, perhaps you just have to produce children who are wired for order so that you don't have to scream.

    Either way, I was out of luck.