24 April 2011

And little lambs eat ivy

I suppose it comes as no surprise when I say that thus far, my year has been suffused with illness, death, near death, and worrying about death, not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily having anything to do with me. We've all had years like this. I've even had years like this before. I just seem to be back in this part of the cycle.

I, of course, did fall apart at the end of last year, and in January, while cleaning my teeth, after we'd minutely examined my destruction, my dentist told me of the unexpected serious illness of one of her friends and the completely unexpected death of another, who also happened to be the endodontist who treated me some years back. The dentist told me of spending long weekends helping the ill friend clean out years of accumulated stuff, and how it made her wonder who would clean out her belongings were she to suddenly become incapcitated. I was sitting in her chair, simultaneously wondering the same thing. It had already occurred to me that I needed to worry, particularly given my wonky heart and what looked like imminent surgery.

Thus, a desire to purge my premises was born.

I'm generally pretty good about keeping up with outgrown and broken toys, outgrown clothing, the myriad largely unusable items gifted me by my mother-in-law (I am not joking: entire sets of china purchased at yard sales. I already have four complete sets of china tucked away in various crawl spaces, and various bits from other sets that I've owned since college graduation. I have enough vases to start my own florist shop). I am not a hoarder, and the charities that have trucks that cruise the neighborhoods to pick up donations know my house.

But even so, we've got stuff. I save every single official communication from everyone I've ever done business with: charitable donations, bank statements, credit card agreements and the like. I save letters and cards that make me laugh. I can't quite part with the cute little notes the daughter has written my over the years, the small crafts made for me by the son. And it's all tucked away in every nook and cranny I've got. So for the last several months, as part of my enforced down time, I've been ripping through every closet in the house. Old clothing, oddball decorations, the weird artifacts given us by various family members (do you have any idea how many ceremonial swords I have?), miscellaneous junk. And high on the list: paper.

We moved into this house a little over 13 years ago, and at the time we sold the La Canada house, I had little opportunity to sort through boxes of things. That house sold minutes after it went on the market, escrow was short, I didn't have a house to move into, and I had an infant and three year old, plus! We sold the house at Christmas and escrow closed two weeks later. Everything was piled into moving crates for later dispersion and discarding. It took me 7 years to find the box that held my Calphalon.

(I might also add that in the first five years of the "new" house, we tore half of it down and remodeled. Note the other half has yet to get the same treatment.)

In any event, the boxes of documents that went unsorted into storage in 1998 were joined by more boxes of documents (partly sorted) in 2001, and then I went back to work full time in 2005, which was pretty much the end of everything. This year, I had cause to unearth some very necessary statements--all 25 years of them--and I looked at the boxes filled with unopened envelopes, stray mortgage statements sitting cheek by jowl with random recipes and gardening tips, and decided that enough is enough.

So if you've wondered where I've been for the last month (in addition to doctors' offices and physical therapy), I have been opening envelopes from banks that no longer exist. I have been sorting recipes, stray craft items, the tassels from every time the spouse or I graduated with another degree (between the two of us, we've graduated A LOT). Big Entertainment Company used to give away buttons and pins every time something momentous occurred, and I've got every one! Old love letters (yes, heaven help me, and they are all mine). The odd rock (those are all the spouse's). The occasional Lego (the son's). It's all a weird record of lives lived full tilt, and often with little time for organization. There is, in fact, a strange demarcation, a Before and After, an Organized and Disorganized.


I suppose then, that it's appropriate that I'm getting back into the groove. One child is closing in on flying the coop and the other won't be far behind. And truly, I love organization. I am happy knowing where everything is, even the things I've forgotten I have (tassels!). Once this is done, I can move on to the next item with a clear conscience that everything has a place and resides there.

And that while I've saved the innards, all those envelopes have gone off to live another life as post-consumer something.

Go listen to some music: "Mairzy Doats" written by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston, and recorded by numerous artists. When my siblings and I were quite young, an elderly friend of the family donated to us an enormous stack of 78s filled with old standards, what we considered children's music: "Reuben and Rachel," "Mairzy Doats," "Big Rock Candy Mountain," and the like. We played them forever on our tiny portable record player, over and over until the words were ingrained in our tiny heads. So well did I remember them that I sang them to my own children when they were small.

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