Part One of Three
I’ve had this project on my mind (and to-do list) for a while now: clean the garage. It seemed as though I would finally have time this summer. The Garage Project (TGP) has been on the list for at least three years but became critical last summer when my father and I could not get to the tool box to finish our lawn furniture repair and refinishing project. Screws and nuts were still in hardware store bags, I seemed to have at least six Phillips screwdrivers in different parts of the garage (had my husband and I kept re-buying them thinking we didn’t have one?) and the path between the garage door and the tool box was absolutely cluttered with all of the things I “hide” when people come over.
I wind up hiding things because I have a hard time putting them away, especially frequent-use items. Surely, I’ll need all 27 books and 14 literary journals by “my” side of the sofa. Along with my laptop, cell phone, tablet (free with the cell phone!), e-reader, box of tissues, assorted pens and pencils and highlighters, cuticle moisturizer, hand moisturizer (paper is hell on hands!), nail files, stick-it notes, bookmarks (brass and paper and torn pieces of tissue), television remote, bills, catalogs, the house phone, and plenty of snacks (chocolate and salted varieties).
What I know is that most clutter-busting experts recommend keeping a basket in each room of the house so that this avalanche of every-day items can be quickly (and tidily) “hidden” in plain-sight. My living room basket is currently full though (I’m really back-logged on literary magazines) and the other baskets are nesting together, emptily, in another room of the house, looking pretty (and neat!) stacked there.
When I go to friends’ beautiful, clean homes and spend time in their curated living rooms and kitchens, I notice how, well, messy, I am. They have one decorative blanket slung over a chair; I have six stacked in the corner. They have an eclectic assortment of plates and glasses, I have 18 matchy-matchy place settings even though we no longer entertain large groups of friends. They keep their bedroom doors open, beds covered with colorful pillow cover/duvet ensembles and beautiful art work displayed in small collections throughout the room. Our bedroom door is shut, with three weeks of clean laundry (bed/floor/bed…wait, is this dirty?) to fold and put away.
Early on in my home ownership and home comfort-creating life, I thought I was messy because I needed to learn more about housekeeping. The first resolution to my “messiness” problem was to look to housekeeping magazines for help. Soon, the side table was stacked with Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, Dwell, House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, and Sunset magazines. Every trip to the hardware store yielded a specialty publication—how to organize a kitchen (an entire magazine), how to organize closets (a separate magazine), how to organize the garage (another separate magazine), and how to build a garden shed for garden equipment that would be so beautiful and homey that me and my friends would eat my never-grown home-grown tomatoes (from a specialty magazine on container gardening) with an artful splash of balsamic vinegar (from Bon Appétit magazine) off the clean-swept floor.
With the advent of HGTV, I learned that all of these beautifully photographed closets, garages, and kitchens are “staged.” Everyday household items are edited from the room (mixing spoons! books!), fresh flowers are brought in, hardwood floors polished, and expert lighting technicians make these spaces much more photograph-in-a-magazine-worthy. Several years ago, I got rid of the magazines and stopped acquiring them on trips to hardware and grocery stores. Already, less clutter—certainly an added bonus.
Looking at these photos, even knowing that these spaces are staged for mass-consumption, still gives me a case of home anxiety, or something I’ve been calling “house porn.” I’m addicted. Although I got rid of the magazines, I will spend hours on Pinterest if I’m not careful. Looking around my messy living room, I need an orgasmic fix of beauty and order. I sit down and open the laptop. What if we changed the tile in our hallway? Surely I’ll need to know how to paint the old oak cabinets in the kitchen, or to xeriscape for our high-desert climate, and, yes, I still collect photos of tidy (and unrealistic) gardening sheds even though I have never gardened and now live in a too-arid climate.
Something has started bothering me, though. What has caused this rise in surroundings dissatisfaction? Shouldn’t it be more than enough that I am in a position to live indoors? Maybe it’s the absolute difference between the real and the staged. Surely there has to be something in between? Something where everyday items manage to be utilitarian and displayed interestingly in a non-cluttering sort of way. After all, let’s be honest: I’m not getting rid of any books. Do I need more space or less stuff? What else is happening?
Compounding this disorder and dissatisfaction is a third factor: my projects have a way of multiplying. What at first seems like a weekend project (cleaning the garage) migrates and morphs in such a way that it becomes a project of epic proportions. I have a breakdown. I sit in the middle of the newly-created mess, wondering what went wrong--wasn't this supposed to be easy?
The Empty Brain by Robert Epstein