A Clean House is the Sign of a Wasted Life

Many years ago I purchased this little stitchery sign that sits on my stuff in my office.  It says, “A Clean House is the sign of a wasted life.”  I’ve never taken the time to actually stitch that saying, it’s still just paper in a frame, unfinished.  But I see it every day and smile.

I’ve been making small attempts to put more things in my life in order.  Yesterday, for example, I cleaned out 2 kitchen drawers I’ve not opened in probably 10-15 years or more.  They were full, and so they stayed closed.  (Sort of like when I put a blanket or quilt over something I don’t want to deal with).  In one of those drawers I found mail from different universities trying to recruit Adam to apply there.  I found recipes from ladies in my quilt group who are no longer with us.  I found Aaron’s Lego mini men toys.  I found a stack of flyers Adam delivered to neighbors inviting them to come help him with his Eagle Scout project.  I found a note from Claire’s Jr. High teacher with a recipe for her lemon bars.  I found carpool driving lists I’d made of all the kids in our neighborhood and who picked up who on which days.  I found phone numbers for tennis teachers who used our court.  I found an envelope of orange flower seeds a neighbor shared with me.  It was a bit like opening a time capsule.

Another project I’ve been working on recently is cleaning up my journals, the ones in my computer from the late 1980s to the present.  I’ve been scanning through them quickly, page by page to format them all in a uniform way, with my favorite fonts, margins and page numbers added.  These journals (1000s and 1000s of pages) have moved with me from computer to laptop to computer to laptop over the years, and some of the original formatting had glitched a bit.  I’m trying to prepare “My Remains,” so that when I go someday, all will be in order and in the right hands.

Last week, in those journals, I happened across this little piece I wrote 17 years ago.  I smiled, because really, not much has changed.

18 January 2006

I attended a lecture by a professional de-clutterer today. I was surprised at how so many of the things she said bothered me. First I should say that I’m always open to discussion and tips on this topic, because my house is always cluttered, and I just seem to live this way. John would love to have every pile erased, but my eraser isn’t big enough.

The first thing the lady said was that we should get rid of everything in the house we Used to Use, but no longer do. She said sometimes our houses pile up with things from our kids or our parents and grandparents. We have stuff that just takes up space without being useful. We hang on to things that serve no purpose.

I bristled at that. It felt so ungrateful. I sat there visualizing the treasures in my home that represent times gone by. I thought of books that have been read, but may not be read a second time, but are a part of who I am. I thought of memories that would die if their reminders would be discarded. I thought about history and keeping it alive. I doubt I could live in a home that was only filled with Useful Things.

Next she told us to get rid of everything that we Might Use Someday. If it’s not being used right now, get rid of it–it may never be used, and it just takes up space. I guess that would empty half of my house. And how would that feel? Stripped and unprepared. I could live out of my home for years, and do it happily because it’s filled with all the things I might use some day.

She said we can live in homes that are used for storage, or homes that are used for living. Are your spaces filled with things being stored, or with living? Well, I suppose I live because I am surrounded by things I love and projects I’m in the middle of and piles of good accumulations. To me, that’s living.

As this lady talked, I visualized her visit to my home and what a hay day she would have throwing things away. It almost made me sick to think of it. She is driven by organization. I guess I’m just driven by other things. Like bug collections on the dining room table, dozens of half finished quilts in the sewing room, homework spread on the kitchen table, snacks on the counter, music under the piano, and piles and piles of books and papers–my unfiled discoveries waiting for more attention. I would shrivel and die in a house free of my stuff. I could maybe sit there for awhile and wonder what to do, but I would not be happy.

I also think about the time it would take to keep and maintain that kind of environment. The lady said it can be done in 10 minutes a day. I say Impossible. Maybe if you live alone and do nothing. I can spend 10 minutes a day just cleaning a kitchen and doing dishes, not to mention the piles of laundry, the back packs and homework strewn all over, the clothes dropped, the mail, the food piles. Maybe I’m raising slobs, but they are happy and they can play beautiful music and they do well in school and they don’t have to leave home to do research for school assignments.

The most repeated compliment of sorts I get from visitors is almost always verbatim: “Your home is so lived in.” “Thank you,” I reply. I could waste my life keeping it tidy and spotless and clutter-free, or I can live and enjoy everything around me, which I do.

I live happily.  I feel like I’m surrounded by abundance.  Our home is comfortable and full of goodness, decorated by quilts and books and some piles.  I am at peace here.  This is who I am and this is how I live, and I’m good with that.

Here is my office right now, at this very moment.  It’s my happy and productive place.

You’re right.  It’s a little embarrassing.  Sigh.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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