The urge to unclutter comes from the most unlikely source—my eight-year-old granddaughter, Mona, who stays with us some weekends. It is through her that my unused and imprisoned worldly belongings find a voice to air their silent cry for liberation.
“Mamita,” she gasps, “you have to get organized—this is a mess!” She puts me to shame as she proceeds to organize the drawer of a thousand things; it’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle, of which she is a master of sorts.
Alas, all the pieces belong to another puzzle. But she manages somehow, as easily as she constructs a mess of Lego materials into something beautiful, and, indeed, in the end puts some semblance of order in the top drawer of my night table.
It all starts on one of her recent visits when she asks to borrow a nail clipper and I make the mistake of suggesting she get it herself. Before this she has never been inclined to open a drawer in our house. She has her own personal section in one closet in the only other room in our condo unit, the guest room she claims as her own, a claim that naturally extends to the bathroom, where her toiletries are neatly stacked. Being our most regular and frequent guest, she holds, I suppose, an effective entitlement.
After some time I look in on her, thinking she may have become overwhelmed by the many kinds of nail clipper that, among other things, I keep in there—for toenails and fingernails, angle-, straight-, curve-bladed, and a favorite that cuts and catches the clippings. True enough I find her happily lost, an Alice in the wonderland of my drawer, where aside from my collection of nail clippers, she discovers an inventory of hand creams, cooling gel for sore feet, peppermint foot scrub, ointments, Vicks inhaler and rub, Tiger Balms, White Flower oils, lip moisturizers, nose strips (for sinus congestion and snoring), Band-Aid of various shapes and sizes, tweezers and manicure-pedicure paraphernalia.
It is then I realize not only that she is growing up so fast, but that I’ve been keeping too many things I don’t or scarcely use, and things I can no longer use—they’ve expired, expired unused, in fact. The lower drawer is not any neater, it’s full of office materials so old some of them belonged to my first mother-in-law—Scotch tape in all kinds of dispensers, masking tape of different widths, multicolored fasteners and paper clips, an industrial tape measure that rolls in and out, folders, a paper hole-puncher and note pads galore, in case the muse visits during the night.
Mona has since transferred her exploration to other drawers in my tocador, and is having a great time discovering the strangest things—unused bag hooks, despite having given away about a dozen last Christmas, wallets, coin purses and eyeglass frames. The lowest drawer hoards cosmetic bags of all sizes and all kinds of fans still in boxes.
Now I’m almost afraid to look into the closets, where too many things are begging to be rescued decisively from their limbo. I somehow have an idea how E. B. White felt saying “Goodbye to 48th Street.” He writes:
“For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s world to go out again into the world. During September I kept hoping that some morning, as by magic, all books, pictures, records, chairs, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach. But this did not happen.”
And it never will, until I roll up my sleeves and extract them myself. Unlike E. B. White, I’m not merely moving house, although it is at such times that one comes face to face with how much one has accumulated and hoarded. I’m going nowhere.
This is a one-time decluttering I’m embarking on, a final separation from things I no longer use, some because they no longer bring me joy and have become a burden to life and closet. They may as well be released for others to use and hopefully love, as I once did. It’s the only way to lighten up at this stage of the game.
As the saying goes, when the student is ready the guru of uncluttering—Marie Kondo—appears. She is the master of tidying up once and for all, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
With the elections over, I now have the time—without putting my guard down, of course, in the constant vigilance a democracy demands between now and the inauguration and beyond—to systematically declutter my home using Marie Kondo’s book, which promises, if done following her scientific and systematic very Japanese way, I will never ever have to do it again.
What’s more, as a consequence or bonus of tidying up for good—and this is the magical part—comes an uncluttered mind and plenty of room for prosperity waiting to fill up liberated space. It should also please Mona, a natural tidy-upper and a blessing all in one.