At first I was called “a packrat.” That name was given to me by my father. He had turned his back on four-year old me while checking out of a hotel lobby in Honalulu. In seconds I had collected not one, but two pamphlets for every tourist attraction available on the islands of Hawaii.
“Why do you need two?” he asked, shaking his head and laughing.
“I might lose one,” I answered logically.
I graduated from “packrat” to “squirrel,” a slightly more-loving term coined by my husband.
“You just like to collect things for your nest,” he explained.
I pictured those little curly-tailed rodents on my lawn stuffing food into their mouths and nodded.
I like stuff. I always have. I am one of those people who enters into a nice clean hotel room and in five minutes every table is covered with something I packed. My husband gets the far, dingy corner for his bag, and I get everywhere else.
At one point after college I decided to become a Professional Organizer. I figured people with mental illnesses become therapists all the time, why couldn’t I become a Certified Professional Organizer?
The glitch hit when I went to the National Association of Professional Organizers website. I saw images of organized closets and matching hangers hanging equidistant apart. I started to hyperventilate. My head spun. I couldn’t do it.
No amount of “How to Organize Your Life/Closet/Mind” books off Amazon or “Finally Get Organized!!!” features in general interest women’s magazines helped. Faithfully I would dog-ear the pages, full of hope, but rarely follow through.
I had tried following through many times. One afternoon I tried to tackle two small cabinets under bookshelves in the living room. After I pulled various things out, I found myself elated. “Wow! Awesome! I forgot I had this! Cool!”
Instead of going into garbage/giveaway bags I had nearby, my re-found belongings circled around me until I was surrounded by history and memories.
After a few hours I was so mentally exhausted from reliving my life, I put it all back in, took the one token item I was willing to part with, and left it on the floor for the dog to eat.
This has been going on for years, decades really, and after all this time I have only found one way to help myself sad, miserable, rodent-ial self.
Plan a vacation.
Vacations are my number-one way of getting organized. There are two reasons:
1. I don’t like coming home to a messy house
2. I have taken enough vacations, and left enough behind, to I realize that I don’t really need anything I didn’t take with me.
I have wondered how I would feel if my house burned down and I lost everything. The thought actually makes me shrug my shoulders.
If my husband, kids, and dogs weren’t in it, I’d be really sad about the photos, but boy, it would save me so many weeks of mental and emotional work. Physical history would be gone—poof!-- and only memories left behind.
I know now that the week before vacation is when I do my best cleaning out, so I start early.
I am stressed, slightly annoyed since I can’t easily find what I need, and can’t think much further than the vacation ahead.
If an item gets in my way, gone! It is hindering forward movement! That pile of free books that I might read, gone! If I am not taking them on vacation, they are going back to the dump! Those newspapers with the one article I wanted to read—gone! Those shorts, shirt, swimsuit, pants that haven’t fit in too long, gone!
Where are the ones that fit again?
I confess that vacations have only put a mere dent into forty years of my personal history, but it’s a start and it’s a great excuse to take a vacation. Even squirrels need a summer break.
Jennifer Quasha is a writer and most recently the co-author of "Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Dog's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Canine Companions" and "Chicken Soup of the Soul: My Cat's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Feline Family Members." Check out her website at www.jenniferquasha.com.