There must be something about the aging process that is affecting my ability to tolerate clutter. The older I get, the more unfettered I want my living quarters to be.
When I was younger, I could tolerate the messes that went along with our young-parents-raising-children lifestyle.
Toys littering the floor didn't bother me unless I managed to step on an especially sharp one in my bare feet.
Piles of clean laundry could sit on the couch for a day or so and not drive me crazy.
Dusty knick-knacks and doo-dads filled every out-of-the-reach-of-a-toddler space I could find.
Our kitchen table had to be big enough for a small army with enough chairs to hold the same.
Our house seemed to be filled to the rafters, wonderfully unkempt and chaotic.
And somehow, I didn't mind it one bit.
But lately I've been overtaken by the urge to streamline everything. Suddenly, I want and need a more efficient lifestyle. I want less furniture, less knick-knacks and doo-dads and less pictures on the walls.
Perhaps this new take on life is the result of living in an empty nest. The absence of adolescent bodies makes it possible for me to see how much "stuff" we have accumulated. It's everywhere! And while I used to be able to tolerate a child-filled disorderly life and a house bursting at the seams, I've suddenly decided that all this extra stuff needs to go. Well, most of it anyway. But, how am I supposed to accomplish this task?
A garage sale. A really big garage sale with tables groaning under the weight of all those things that I thought I could never live without.
This last weekend I started going through closets, drawers and childless bedrooms in preparation for such a sale. The boxes began to fill up and when they ran out, I used empty laundry baskets. I was a woman on a mission and I was determined that nothing would get in my way of purging the unnecessary from our lives. There was only one problem with my plan.
Ray panics at the mere mention of garage sale - beads of sweat break out on his forehead and his hands begin to shake. I'm afraid that I permanently traumatized him when we held a garage sale soon after we married and combined our two households. We had two of almost everything - two refrigerators, two microwave ovens, two kitchen tables. And then the problem was compounded when wedding gifts arrived.
You guessed it - a garage sale.
However, nine years later, Ray still accuses me of selling only those things that belonged to him. And the mere mention of a garage sale now sends him running for his "stuff". Like a child who doesn't like sharing his toys, Ray begins to gather his things closer to him. I could swear I've seen him mouth "Mine!" as he puts his things out of my reach. He is a pack-rat in denial, and his cache grows daily.
To maintain harmony in our relationship, I've reassured him that I have no intention of selling any of his precious belongings. As I moved a dozen boxes filled with his things out of the garage and into the shed, Ray watched me like a hawk, fearful that I'd slip a box or two into the ever-growing pile of items earmarked for the upcoming garage sale of the century. As tempted as I was, I didn't dare risk it.
At the end of the weekend with hands on my hips, I surveyed the accumulation of items that I'd gathered. I felt dirty and sweaty, but satisfied that I'd taken a big step towards simplifying our lives. My momentary reverie was interrupted as the front door slammed and I heard my daughter cry out.
"Mom, where are you? I'm home!"
Maybe I was a bit premature in my efforts to simplify my empty nest. Laid off from the job that was supposed to be the gateway into adulthood, Melissa is the newest member of "boomerang" generation. She, and her things, have moved back home.
My desire to clean and simplify a childless house was nice while it lasted. However, when Melissa moves out the next time, I'm prepared. I've got plans, really big plans for her room. The shed's getting full and I'm absolutely convinced that Ray's going to need the extra storage space.
Theresa Larson is the administration manager and biweekly columnist for the Lodi News-Sentinel.