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Cleaning out the closets of the mind

When I moved into this house, nearly 18 months ago now, I didn’t have time to do it right. So many urgent things had to be done — and I’m talking bleach-the-mold-off-the-walls urgent, rip-entire-walls-out urgent, tear-off-rotted-rooms urgent — that many niceties got neglected. Boxes went unpacked. Stuff got stuffed … wherever.

Besides, after having lived small for 10 years (between Cabin Sweet Cabin and that crumbling fifth-wheel in the desert), I had just spent the previous three years in house with an attic, a basement, and a garage. This house … not so much.

Then there was the teeny, tiny problem of closets. This place had not a single one. Not. One. Closet.

Basically I’ve been living in the front half of the house (which has been in a constant state of “project”) while the unrestored back half holds junk vital preparedness supplies, seasonal gear, shop tools, construction materials, art supplies, and spare pieces of furniture.

I built a couple closets and some shelves in what used to be the enclosed porch and was delighted to be able to move things into them. Then the roof collapsed and most of that, plus the furniture, had to pulled right back out.

I know I’ll look back on all this in 10 years and think of it all as a grand, glorious old-house adventure (which special fondness for all the help I’ve been given). But this year I’ve had many days when, if I was a crier, I’d be crying.

One solution would be to get rid of a lot of stuff — which I’ve been doing. But mostly the problem isn’t too much stuff (although of course all halfway decent preppers have more than average stuff); it’s temporarily too little house. That problem will continue until I can finish those back rooms and the foundation under them. Another solution would be to rent a storage unit (and I think about it, believe me), but between the expense and the grim prospect of moving all that crap valuable but cumbersome stuff again … I can’t face it. Maybe eventually. Not now.

But for now I do try, once in a while, to bring temporary order to the temporary chaos. That’s one of the things I’m doing while hermitting.

And it occurred to me today that what needs doing, physically, with the chaos of the house is just like what needs doing, mentally (emotionally, spiritually, you name it) with the chaos of life.

The brain/heart/mind/spirit gets all cluttered and disorganized from the endless commitments of daily life. Boxes go unopened to the point where you don’t know whether what’s in them is valuable, useless, formerly valuable and now useless, or what. Perhaps the boxes hold precious memories. Perhaps they hold “whatever was I thinking when I acquired that???” mathoms. You can’t find the things you really need while you’re practically tripping over things you don’t. Sticky spider webs and dust bunnies form behind neglected intellectual/emotional objects.

Life! It needs a good cleaning and reorganizing! But when you first start, it’s OMG, what do I do with all that stuff? All those underutilized talents, all those neglected dreams, all those old anxieties and dreads, all those memories both beloved and bittersweet. At first there may be a lot of just shuffling items from one “room” to another, not sure what needs keeping and what doesn’t, not sure where the keepers will eventually find their place — and never sure how to get rid of those special “things” you cling to even though they’ve long outlived any useful purpose. And oh, the prospect of digging through those most darkly stashed boxes of the mind. There may even be a brown recluse or a black widow lurking in those unexplored spaces.

Sooooo much easier just to watch another four episodes of Once Upon a Time. But do that and the clutter thickens …


  1. jed
    jed December 17, 2014 7:17 pm

    “Closets of the Mind” would make a good name for a rock band. Late 60’s era, of course.

  2. KenK
    KenK December 17, 2014 9:26 pm

    Do you have enough room in your yard for a shed? How I handled that issue a few years back.

  3. A.G.
    A.G. December 17, 2014 10:38 pm

    I have a feeling Jed has a pretty cool record collection.

  4. Old Printer
    Old Printer December 17, 2014 11:36 pm

    One of the great things about our frontier was the leaving of things and memories behind. And mistakes. Now we’ve reached the edge of the ocean cliff with no room to move and no where to go.

    As a practical matter, and you’ve heard this before, if you haven’t used or missed an item in three years you don’t need it. But none of us are practical. We find comfort in having reminders of pleasant memories – it makes us think that the past is still with us, a way of holding back the inexorable march of time.

    You aren’t the only one who is circling the wagons and laying in supplies for a long, dark night.

  5. naturegirl
    naturegirl December 18, 2014 12:54 am

    It was precisely this kind of thinking that got me into my current/nearly over predicament. LOL. Sometimes the tossing of things can end up tossing ones life as well. Not to mention the mind at the same time.

    I did the storage thing because of the flood. It’s great for the room to sort, setting a time limit on how long to have one is important. But it helps to have it all out in order to filter what shouldn’t be in from what should go back in. I do believe it does magically grow into a larger pile than what it started out as, gremlins or something come along and add more to it.

    Not having closets should help keep the extra stuff out, closets are “stuff eaters” LOL

  6. Matt, another
    Matt, another December 18, 2014 7:41 am

    Dark creatures lurk in the closets of my mind, peeking around the edges of the doors, daring me to tome and clean them out. So far we have worked out a truce, I leave them be and they don’t stomp around the living space of my mind.

  7. Jim B.
    Jim B. December 18, 2014 9:36 am

    I thought you were trying to simplify your life. I can’t imagine one person having such a big house unless you needed a big room for a working studio. Otherwise I view such big houses as big TRAPS for *well* S T U F F. : ) And that doesn’t include the expense of heating and cooling the house, although I have no idea why S T U F F would need heat and air conditioning.

    On the other hand, my grandparents had Clothing Ardmories they used to store any extra and off seasons clothings. They’re basically stand alone closets that are not built ins.

  8. Claire
    Claire December 18, 2014 11:33 am

    Geez, Jim B. How big do you think my house is? The part I’m living in is about 700 square feet. The unrestored part maybe another 500. I tore 1/4 of the place off when I first moved in. Yeah, it’s bigger than Cabin Sweet Cabin, but one thing I discovered living there is that small spaces don’t necessarily imply simplicity.

    naturegirl — Good to see you again; I was wondering how life was treating you. And yeah, I guess you understand better than most of us about stuff and non-stuff.

  9. Tahn
    Tahn December 18, 2014 12:49 pm

    I prefer trunks with lids to closets. They stack, can be labeled and are fast and easy to transport if you ever need to move. The oldest trunk I have is an immigrants trunk circa 1840’s and handmade with one piece walnut boards 22″ wide. That is the one I keep the family treasures in. The newest is Rubbermaid with everything in between from Boy Scout trunks to WW2 footlockers. I even had a steamer trunk with drawers inside when opened but it was too heavy when loaded so I swapped for several lighter chests. I look for them at flea markets and garage sales. Wonderful tools for storage and organization.

    I gave my youngest granddaughter a solid wood trunk FULL of Lincoln Logs. Hundreds and hundreds of logs. Pull out and play, throw them back in for another day.

    Trunks on legs (some with folding legs) were the common storage item before those fancy things with drawers (chest of drawers) came along. Some trunks or chests had a drop front and came to be called travel desks. The sizes, styles, variety and materials used for construction are endless from wood to wicker. I like handles on the end. Some fit inside of others.

    If I had closets, which I don’t, I would use them to store trunks in.

    Love them!!

  10. jed
    jed December 18, 2014 3:55 pm

    @A.G. I have a somewhat eclectic collection. The oddest thing in it is probably the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. And it has a lot of gaps. Also, a lot of unknowns, as there are garage sale boxes of LPs (yes vinyl) I have yet to look through. Uh, speaking of stuff, yeah, I’m saving those, despite having them for over three years.

    Three years? I certainly have stuff I haven’t used in that long. But it’s all stuff I hope I’ll use again. If I get into a house again, it will all be useful for sure. I got rid of lot at my last downsizing, and most of it I wish I still had. All replaceable, of course. I admit I will likely never get through all the books I have. What a trip it would be to find a big enough spot to spread it all out and go through it.

    I would damn near kill for 1200 sq. feet. Claire, can I come and hermit at your place for a while? Oh wait, there’s 3 animals. 😉

    Back to music, yesterday the post title had me hung up on Windmills of Your Mind, but I realized today that a better accompaniment would be The Amboy Dukes.

  11. Pat
    Pat December 18, 2014 4:52 pm

    “I prefer trunks with lids to closets.”

    Agreed. They can be locked or not, can be used for tables, footstools or benches, and hidden under beds (or in closets, as Tahn says) if you don’t want them seen.

    “…one thing I discovered living there is that small spaces don’t necessarily imply simplicity.”

    No, they can be merely… confining. Striving for simplicity isn’t simple, for sure. And the closets in our minds are cluttered with so much junk — junk that we don’t remember or knew how to assess when we acquired it — that we can’t always determine what the problem is when we attempt to unclutter. And that leads to a standstill.

    Sometimes I’ve found the only way to unclutter stuff is in steps: first by ruthlessly tossing it in piles — to throw out, sell/give away, or keep; then narrow those piles after a week or two based on realistic usage/need; and if necessary, to narrow what’s left based on sentimentality (sentimentality comes last). At worst, it can help you determine why it’s important to keep and where to put it, at best you’ll get rid of it with no regrets for your decision. It’s worked for me in the past.

  12. Alan
    Alan December 18, 2014 6:18 pm

    My 1906 house has no closets. When the county tax things wanted to know how many bedrooms the house has I asked how they defined bedroom (I already knew) and then told them, “None.” (According to their definition, for room to be a bedroom it must have a closet.) She looked grouchy after that, I think I failed some kind of test.

  13. naturegirl
    naturegirl December 19, 2014 3:52 am

    Hi Claire 🙂

    Finally got the laptop revived. Except the letter e only works when it wants to. Trying to catch up, with everything, otherwise. Life is treating me fine, it’s myself that I have to watch out for LOL.

  14. A.G.
    A.G. December 19, 2014 8:00 am

    Jed just advanced to the bonus round for turning this into an Amboy Duke thread. The Grand Prize Of Meaningless Trivia however will go to him only if he has the two “transitional” albums Ted did for Frank Zappa’s label.

  15. jed
    jed December 19, 2014 3:38 pm

    Nope, not a big enough Nuge fan. But I do have some Moby Grape, and Ethyl Meatplow.

  16. A.G.
    A.G. December 20, 2014 2:00 am

    Sorry C, I promise to talk about using large labeled Rubbermaid totes filled with emergency supplies to quickly load our “bug out wagon” another time. Oh wait…

    Jed, the transitional albums were what may be termed “heavy acid blues”. In the Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf ballpark, and noticeably different from the Werner produced solo material played on classic rock radio formats. The peace beads and tab influenced freak-outs were diminishing, but green smoke was still in the air for a bit longer.
    Everything is on YouTube nowadays so don’t feel too bad about missing out on the imaginary prize you were almost awarded. We can still be pals and stuff.

    Hibernation (studio version)

    Call Of The Wild

    ^I love the album artwork for this one. Used to stare at it when still living in suburban hell.

  17. jed
    jed December 20, 2014 10:19 am

    I’m a fan of the Rubbermaid Roughneck tubs. I think the size is 19qt. It’d be difficult to load them up to be too heavy to carry. I have several of them packed with a variety of canned and dried foodstuffs, and a P39 opener in each one. Also one for making fire and cooking, and another with first aid. The idea is to stack them with highest priority on top, so that if I have to head out, I just start with the top ones, and keep going until I run out of space or time.

    Will visit the Nuge a bit later. Errands to run today. Wheeeee!

  18. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau December 20, 2014 6:16 pm

    We’re in the process of moving, same deal, working through stuff trying to throw some away. I have way too many books and guns.

    Well, when I kick the bucket some day all my stuff will be somebody else’s problem.

    I used to move regularly and fairly easily, but this time has been hard because of back problems and getting old generally. I took to loading books into a box only half full just to make it easier to handle them (sigh).

  19. LarryA
    LarryA December 21, 2014 9:59 pm

    But it’s all stuff I hope I’ll use again.

    For me that category holds stuff I haven’t used since I toured Vietnam, that I hope I don’t have to use again.

    I have several of them packed with a variety of canned and dried foodstuffs, and a P39 opener in each one. Also one for making fire and cooking, and another with first aid.

    Good idea, but I think I’d distribute the fire/first aid stuff in the food bins. IMHO a bugout package of food isn’t really food unless it includes everything you need to prepare it for eating.

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