Joe Lavin's Humor Column
An Evening with the Clean Queen
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This is, after all, the woman who suggested fighting clutter by photographing family heirlooms and then throwing the heirlooms out. Don't save bulky cookbooks, she suggested. Just copy down the recipes you'll use into a spiral notebook, and get rid of the cookbooks. And then there's her toy rule. In her house, if a child leaves a toy out, that toy automatically becomes hers, and she can do with it what she wants.
Once, when her five-year-old left out a toy truck, she took the truck and put it up for sale in the family yard sale. Granted, she set the price too high for anyone to buy it, but she still made her son worry about losing the truck for an entire weekend. "Next time, I'll set the price so low that someone will buy the truck," she warned him when the truck eventually survived the sale. You get the feeling that somewhere Leonid Brezhnev is smiling proudly.
I'm not sure what possessed me to take a three-hour clutter class, but it was for a newspaper article I was writing. And besides I am something of a packrat; I figured it couldn't hurt. I was wrong. It turned out to be one of the more boring three hours of my life. You don't believe me? Well, you try sitting in a high school classroom listening to some woman spend forty-five minutes talking about the best way to organize a closet. It was enough to make one yearn to be in pre-calculus class.
That's not to say that Jane wasn't impressive. I didn't realize anyone could even have three hours of clutter suggestions, but she reeled them off at a mile-a-minute pace which simply boggled the mind. Once, we had to ask her to take a deep breath, because it looked like she was about to explode from all the helpful tips that were flowing through her brain. It was a lot like watching Martha Stewart on crack.
Never a moment in her life is wasted. For example, she always keeps napkins in her car; if she's stuck in traffic, then she just folds napkins while waiting. (Damnit! Why did I never think of that?) She also keeps towels and a bucket in her car. That way, if she has to wait for her kids at school, she can then fill up the bucket with soap and water and wash her car in the school parking lot -- which, I imagine, must be really popular with her kids.
Speaking of her children, I was starting to feel a little sorry for them. "I like to have my kids all do their homework in the kitchen," she told us once for no apparent reason. "I line them all up at the table, so that I can keep an eye on them and make sure they're doing their work." As for her husband, it seems that he mostly ignores her. Sometimes, he will even - GASP! - leave old newspapers around the living room. "He's unbelievable sometimes," she complained with the shudder of someone who truly suffers.
Later, she spent twenty minutes telling us how to organize our mail, which made me fear that I'm just not getting enough mail. For me, organizing my mail means tossing out the junk mail and seeing if anything's left. But Jane, of course, has a more elaborate system. She suggested having many bins for all your mail, including one marked "SELF." "If you find mail you want to keep, you should always throw it in your SELF file," she explained. I don't know about you, but I would feel a bit, well, self-conscious having a big bin marked SELF in my apartment. Although, this did seem a particularly useful suggestion for those who have split personalities that both get mail; just mark the bins SELF1 and SELF2.
Okay, so I was getting silly, but after three hours, I was starting to tire. It didn't help that I wasn't able to eat dinner beforehand and couldn't find the proper change to buy potato chips from the high school vending machine. (I'm sure this is something that never happens to someone as organized as Jane.) My hunger and boredom were merging in such a way that I just had to get out.
But as I sat there, I realized that maybe clutter isn't so bad after all. Sure, my life might be a little disorganized, but so what? At least, I'm not the one sitting in traffic folding up little napkins.
©1999 Joe Lavin