98: Waste Not, Want Not

98: Waste Not, Want Not

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Waste Not, Want Not

The more you have, the more you are occupied. The less you have, the more free you are.

~Mother Teresa

I reached up to grab a spare blanket from the top shelf of the closet and was immediately pelted by additional covers, spare pillows and assorted quilts shrouding me like a tent. “I have GOT to get my act together,” I muttered.

I was never “neat” or “organized.” My closets were jammed with clothes that fit, might fit one day, or would never fit but gave me hope. My important document storage consisted of one empty accordion file surrounded by bulging bags separated by year. My bathroom contained expired or partially used creams, shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants and other hygiene products that I kept in case I ran out of my usual items. I even had three junk drawers instead of the customary one. Meanwhile, my kitchen utensils sat crammed in jars on the counter or in a jumbled mess in one top drawer.

I’m not a hoarder, but I did grow up in an environment where we didn’t discard things simply because they were outdated or worn out. My parents repaired what was broken and improvised with what we owned, finding different uses long after a cold cream jar or sturdy box was empty. The tip of a broken shoelace from a skate could easily be dipped in wax and reused on sneakers, while a ratty, torn dishtowel became a useful dust cloth. We recycled long before it became a “green” thing.

I extricated myself, kicked the pile of bedding aside into a heap and went to pour a cup of coffee.

“I need to make changes,” I mused, sipping the hot brew, but the task seemed monumental.

I didn’t even know where to begin. A tour of the house was unnecessary. I knew what I’d find. A mental inventory of the flotsam and jetsam of my life ran through my head, and it all boiled down to one thing — unnecessary clutter. Every nook and cranny of our adequately large home was filled with what I often deluded myself into believing were “prized possessions.”

For starters, I had six shelves of knick-knacks — three for teapots and three filled with ceramic cats — all covered with a film of dust. I never actually intended to collect either, but once I had two of each, well meaning friends and relatives assumed I wanted more and I was inundated with them for Christmas and birthdays.

Family photos dotted the walls, and loose, curled snapshots were tucked into the corners awaiting more frames that I “eventually” planned to buy.

I had sufficient stemware and other assorted crystal to provide toasts for everyone in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Enough pots, pans, plates, bowls and dishes to open a soup kitchen were wedged into my cupboards, and three complete sets of cutlery — services for eight — jangled every time I pulled open the drawer. At least twenty unused mugs with cute sayings sat on shelves; we only used our two favorites. Unmatched glasses, their companions long shattered, were mixed in with newer full sets I couldn’t resist buying on sale.

My office was a mess, too. Bookcases were tightly packed with notebooks, steno pads, copy books, stationery and multiple packs of notebook paper from my son’s school days that ended more than a decade before, many still in their original plastic wrap. Pens, many of them already dried up, were crammed in jars, jugs, cases and boxes. Rulers, pencils, erasers, and markers I never used lay stacked and forgotten in caddies. Two old computers sat in a corner for one of those “you never know” days.

Even the guest room bulged with junk — outdated video games, a broken TV set, board games we never played. The dresser was filled with memorabilia dating back to my son’s birth more than thirty years ago. Drawings yellowed from being stuck on the fridge, childishly scrawled notes, handmade greeting cards — even his hospital bracelet from the day he was born — all items I intended to catalogue when I had time. Another contained his baby blankets and stained christening suit.

“Why am I holding on to so much stuff?” I asked myself out loud.

Just then, the dog wandered in with the stuffed rabbit he carried everywhere. He had at least twenty toys, yet he favored this mangled little bunny, ignoring all the others.

“I need to be more like you, Jack,” I told him. He wagged his tail and lay at my feet with a contented sigh.

As I watched him, I realized that I could, in fact, be like him — satisfied with only my preferred items. With a sudden burst of energy, I decided to begin right away.

I started with the living room. I carefully sorted through all the items, placing those I didn’t like or use into boxes, dating them for exactly one year later. I stored duplicate stuff in bins for a garage sale, and planned to put the profits in a separate account, earmarking it to replace anything that broke at a later date. “Someday” and “in case” possessions went directly into the trash or, if in good condition, to a pile for donations.

The souvenirs of my son’s childhood, along with all the loose photographs, were scanned and saved on a disk to be stored in a safety deposit box. I had long ago bought scrapbooks and photo albums, and vowed to begin categorizing the originals that same week.

I managed to go through four rooms that day. My bathroom was spotless, containing only what we used. I couldn’t believe how much more spacious the house was beginning to look. Shelves held only the things we loved.

I allowed myself only one storage case for sheer sentimental value. Surprisingly, it was only half full, even with two of those favorite blankets. The christening suit was discarded. I had plenty of photographs immortalizing it. By the end of the week, I’d managed to organize most of our belongings. The dog didn’t even notice that the toys I donated to the local animal shelter were gone.

A year later, I parted with my final hoard. The contents of those dated, unopened bins earned me several hundred dollars at yet another garage sale. As I suspected, I never even missed what I’d packed away all those months ago.

Not only did I de-clutter my home, but an added bonus was that my mind was now de-cluttered as well. By staying on top of mess, I no longer panic over disorganization and hurried cleaning when company drops in — well, except for my office. That door still remains closed, but I’m working on that. Maybe next year…

~Marya Morin


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