The Catch-All Life

This is a tale of two households.  It isn’t pretty.

When my sister and I were growing up, our mother was a fulltime housewife.  She was what Florence King would have called a “scrubber” — someone who recoiled at the sight of a speck of dirt, who enthusiastically battled and boiled to keep a flawless house.

In the midst of this flawless house, though, we had a drawer Mother called the “catch-all.”  It was filled with a coiled mass of stuff — old rubber bands, pieces of string, half-sticks of gum, paper clips, clothes pins, you name it.  The catch-all drawer made all the rest of the house possible, neatly hiding the bits and pieces of our family’s existence.  All you had to do was shut the drawer — and voila.  Everything was perfect.

As an adult, I live in a family where nobody is a fulltime housewife and nobody gets a coronary from a speck of dirt.  My husband and I both work.  We are also both on the slovenly side, although he’s a lot worse than I am.  On a weekly basis, we employ a lovely woman to come in and clean our house.  She’s honest and sweet, but she doesn’t like to clean very much.  I can understand that.  I don’t like to clean, either.  So, it isn’t always very easy to tell when she’s been at our house and when she hasn’t.  But whatever.  I mentioned how nice she was, didn’t I?  At our house, that counts for a lot.

Sometimes I look at our house and realize that — unlike the house I grew up in — half this place is a catch-all drawer.  We have drawers, baskets, and pots devoted to small, but unholy messes.

“This place is a dump,” I say to my husband sometimes, just to make conversation.

He blinks.  “What are you talking about?” he says.  “Everything looks great.”

When I was younger, he probably would have inquired about my hormonal levels or something.  Since I no longer harbor anything resembling a hormone, he’s given up on that.

Two weeks ago, we gave a party.  We streamlined the house by hiding all our catch-all containers in the cupboard.  Since then, I’ve been hauling them back out, one by one.  Giving our house what I would call that comfortable, lived-in look and others would call pure squalor.

“You know all these catch-all containers?” my husband said over the weekend, pointing to one of our teeming, overflowing monuments to a life without order.  “What if we just threw them out?”

“Are you kidding?” I asked.  I was shocked — shocked! — that the guy who never notices any clutter had suddenly focused on our household disarray.  “We can’t throw them out!  We have all kinds of valuable stuff in there.”

He retreated instantly and hasn’t mentioned it since.  But I’m worried.  I know my hormonal levels are rock-solid zeroes.  But, Jesus.  What about his?

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

2 comments… add one
  • I thought you might be getting tired of my big mouth all over your lovely site, so I was trying to refrain a bit from commenting…well sort of.  But now I can’t help it!  Your words really hit home. 

    I think that’s what I like so much about your writing.  We can RELATE to all those crazy everyday things that are part of life.  Of course, I like the serious posts, too.  But as for this post, it had me laughing and nodding my head, as usual.  I’m the worst kind of pack rat.  I don’t throw anything out.  I’ve been told that’s a sign of a serious psychological problem.  What else is new?  Ha!  Thanks for putting up with me, and I’ll try to shut up for a bit.  But I’m still reading!    

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Julie — Are you kidding?  I love your comments.

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