The Urge to Purge

My husband and I and our hired help (i.e., our son and his semi-willing friend) are cleaning out the second floor of our house so it can be painted and we can have the carpeting pulled up and the wood floors refinished.

That damned carpet: I knew it was a mistake when we had it installed 12 years ago.  It’s gray, industrial-grade, charm-free, more appropriate for a factory floor than for our bedrooms.  Every time I stepped on it, it annoyed me — a reminder of the blunders you make when you’re in a hurry and have to make a decision based on a tiny block of material; who knows how it’s going to look when it covers hundreds of square feet?  In this case, bad, bad, bad.

But it’s stayed there, its removal postponed every summer by more pressing expenses.  Like mortgage payments and food and kids’ education expenses.  This year, since both kids now have degrees, the carpeting’s finally getting yanked up and out of our lives.  Hasta la vista, you wretched, ugly stuff.  I’m sailing off and doubtless making other decorating mistakes.

What I wonder, again and again, though, is: How on earth did we ever accumulate so much stuff?  Naturally, I blame the kids for a lot of it.  But my husband and I are just as bad.  We’ve driven repeated loads to Goodwill.  We’ve carted out acres of debris in trash sacks.  I’ve never thought we were the acquisitive sort; I now find that — like my house — I am full of a lot of shit.

So, it becomes a mission to me, a cleansing.  I am lightening myself by hundreds of pounds; I am streamlining my life; I am finally going to be organized.

My husband always finds what he calls my “little obsession” with being organized amusing.  He reminds me we are casual people who will revert back to disorganization; like the scorpion that stings in The Crying Game, it’s our nature.  Organization is a temporary state for us.  I should never get any ideas about its endurance.

Oh, shut up, I think, ignoring him, throwing out everything I can and feeling purified.  All of which usually makes my husband nervous, since he insists I enter a “fugue state” and am probably throwing out valuables behind his back.

Like last night, say.  He couldn’t find the remote control for our bedroom ceiling fan.

“You didn’t throw it out, did you?” he asked.

“Of course, I didn’t,” I said indignantly.  “I threw out the remote for the old TV you took to Goodwill.  It’s black.  The ceiling remote is white.  I showed you it when I was throwing it out, remember?”

“I wasn’t looking,” he said.

Several minutes later, we found the white ceiling-fan remote in the trash can.

Oh, sure, I could have blamed myself, but I didn’t.  Enough with the self-flagellation.  After keeping godawful carpeting 12 years too long, I’m eager to trash things that don’t work.  My husband knows it’s in my nature to throw things out indiscriminately; next time, he’ll avoid the sting by watching me more carefully.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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