Absolutely (dis)organized

Few maxims could be truer than “there are no secrets in a small town.” Because my family and I have recently been aiming for a trifecta of stressful life events–a graduation, a death in the immediate family and a house move–we have discovered this in a major way.

Although we had told next to no one about our hopes to move to a different house, and the contingent purchase agreement was privately executed, somehow seemingly EVERYONE–including random store clerks and toddlers–knew of our plans long before the “for sale” sign was actually planted in our front lawn.

“So you’re moving,” people have postulated enthusiastically, clearly hoping I’ll dish and assuming I must be pumped up about the possibility.

But when you’ve lived in a place for over 15 years and acquired two additional children, dozens of CDs, multiple pairs of shoes for all sports and occasions, numerous articles of clothing, at least nine musical instruments and thousands of books, preparing the house in question for tours by potential buyers is a frightening prospect–especially when the hausfrau in question is less than a happy homemaker.

Think of it this way: cleaning and organizing rank near the dead bottom of my “How I Like to Spend My Time” list (on a par with attending All-Star Wrestling matches). Friends know this about me, and I’m sure their tongues cluck-cluck at times over my lack of organizational inspiration and cleaning know-how, though they are usually polite enough to keep those opinions to themselves.

One girlfriend, whose name I will protect here, optimistically gave me the book “Absolutely Organized” by Debbie Lillard a few years ago. Because it was a book (and reading IS one of my favorite things), I flipped through it, although I found its contents and recommendations more laughable than realistic. For instance, the author admitted she has no children, so I failed to understand how she could grasp what challenges a housekeeper with winter coats in multiples of five stuffed into a hall closet might be facing on a daily basis.

Year ago, I adopted a quote from the late comedian Phyllis Diller as one of my mantras: “Cleaning the house while the kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” Yes! Could anything make more sense than that?

Another favorite comment to which I cling is from the inimitable Erma Bombeck: “Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It’s not even in the same neighborhood. No one’s ever had a religious experience removing burned-on cheese from a toaster oven.”

Certainly not me. I would rather accompany for six funerals and eight “I don’t read music” soloists than shake the crumbs out of a toaster, any day of the week.

But the act of sorting, tossing, packing and hiding material goods that have stacked up over time does provide its own unforeseen rewards.

Take, for example, this gem discovered when I stumbled upon a shoe box containing some long-forgotten artifacts of my childhood, including a diary I had co-opted from my mother and scribbled in as an eight-year-old second grader: “Today is Tuesday. My teacher is going to have a baby. We are having our sex education unit.”

Talk about opportunistic teaching! My admiration for Mrs. Hanson was quickly renewed.

And if one can keep a sense of humor within arm’s reach, even as dust buffalos (my dust clumps are FAR too large to ever be termed “bunnies,” but for the record, none of my children has ever suffered from allergies or asthma, either) are corralled and fossilized orange peel is uncovered from behind the kitchen trash can, a wealth of ironies can keep one chuckling for days.

In a stack of magazines set aside for when I’d have time to peruse them more carefully, the cover stories on one caught my eye: “Organize a messy house in minutes,” and “Get $ for your junk.” Great concepts, right? Except the date on that particular Good Housekeeping edition was…April 2009. Some people’s “minutes” last longer than others.

Lest you think I exaggerate, another magazine pile (more like an archaeological dig, really) gave up two Cooking Light magazines, still encased in unopened plastic coverings–and dating to 2002. And “Absolutely Organized” emerged from under a box of games and unsorted photos. I have witnesses.

Debbie Lillard, step aside. After this move is complete, I’ll be ready to write a book to which I hope at least a few people can relate: “Absolutely Disorganized.”


7 Responses

  1. michelle erickson-goettl

    Loved this article Jane! I could relate to it on so many levels. The fact that I know you makes reading it even more fun, because I can almost hear you speaking the words as I read. It also reminds me of a small town column my grandmother wrote for the Blue Earth/Winabago newspaper, entitled Spun Calico Ends (based on her initials) when I was growing up. Always a pleasure to read your articles!


  2. Denise J.

    I just got my house in order or I should say my BFF got my house in order. I could honestly recommend her to any one. She has been a God send to us. Jane I am a lot like you, organizing is at the bottom of my to do list as well.

  3. Doris Cowan

    If only I could be there to help!!! Jeanne and I both agree it’s more fun to work in someone else’s house that your own – and right not I can’t find anyone to work in mine – including myself!!! With a case of shingles, my energy level has plummeted to zero – and it’s never really high even without shingles!!! Unless a friend is coming for coffee – then I can move mountains!!!

  4. Carol Cowan

    The fun has begun!I am very experienced in organizing-we have moved 12 times.Also helped R,J and M move more than once.So to bad we don’t live closer as we could help.
    As Doris said” its always easier to help in someone else’s house” probably because we aren’t so emotionally attached to the things we find as the work progresses.
    Loved your “Time for Moore”article.It said it all!
    Jay and Pamela just moved from the country into Bozeman.We didn’t get called to help-her mom, and two brothers came to lend a hand..
    Well good luck and happy moving!

  5. Tanya Hunt

    My Dear Cousin,
    I always knew I liked you!! This post rings more than a little true for me.:-) I really did laugh out loud (I know, I should just write LOL) when I read of few of the lines, even. Best of luck with your move – hope you’ll give an update when it’s done.

  6. Stacie Dirksen

    I feel your pain as I have been trying to pack up 15 years of “life” in a few short weeks. The advise that I give to you is keep smiling and maybe rip open that Cooking Light magazine and delight your family with a new recipe from 2002!

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