Junk Drawer Brain

drawer5When Frank went back to school this morning (in the snow, after 12 days at home), he said, “Stay away from my Legos.” He isn’t worried I will spend my day playing with his stash of plastic blocks; he’s afraid they’re going to disappear. It has happened before: the boys go back to school several weeks before I go back to teaching, so I start throwing things away. I scour closets for the shoes no one wears. I clear out cabinets and toy bins. I empty the freezer, the linen closet, and the 17 junk drawers in the kitchen. And it has happened: my children’s toys become causalities in my war on stuff. drawer7

January seems like the right time of year to start fresh, to clean the proverbial slate. It is a popular idea this time of year: Pinterest boasts 560 “decluttering” pins. Real Simple and lifeHacker offer checklists and expert advice. Even Lance Armstrong’s website LiveStrong makes the wild claim that getting rid of clutter will make us healthier, saving “time, money, and emotional stress.” Psychologists say that getting rid of our extra stuff has tangible benefits; clutter causes us to feel anxious, frustrated, and guilty. We will feel more productive, creative, and relaxed if we can keep our junk under control. Not to mention the obvious source of immediate gratification. New Year’s resolutions take some serious commitment, but purging is impulsive, fast, and instantly rewarding. drawer6

The experts are probably right. Most of us feel better in tidy spaces. Most of us have too much stuff. Most of us could stand to be more organized. But let’s be honest about the motivations. Purging our life of garbage may feel good, but it’s hard work that looks a bit like a small rodent on one of those exercise wheels – round and round and round. It’s a never ending chore. Those of us who are good at it are likely just feeding a maniacal need for control and order. We’re also lucky – the DIY world has made us into a bunch of organizing heroes.

drawer4I am almost too good at getting rid of things. I have thrown away key pieces of electronic equipment and federal tax documents. I nearly trashed my husband’s service medals and he is still upset about the mix tapes he found in the dumpster. But I married a keeper (sometimes less affectionately called a ‘hoarder’). Cody is organized – his elementary school report cards are alphabetized and filed – but he keeps everything “just in case.” I’m not sure which case might call for all of the unidentified keys in the bowl by the back door, but we are ready. drawer3

We have managed to train each other a bit. Cody’s favorite thing to save is wood. He’s built (a huge) chicken coop and two compost bins from the wood he’s salvaged, so I’ve learned to walk around the piles of lumber in the garage. And last week he let me take a few of his fifty thousand t-shirts to the Salvage Army. I will make off with the rest when he is at work tomorrow.

drawer 1I like to remind myself about the experts and the benefits of decluttering. It makes me feel less crazy. But the truth is at this time of year I feel a bit desperate to take control of something, to make visual progress. After the chaos and stress of the holidays, the world is slowing around me. The ground is frozen and the trees are bare. It is cold and quiet and the longest and darkest part of the year is just abating. Emptying drawers and closets feels like a reasonable coping strategy. Besides, I will never be able to give up on coffee. Or chocolate. Or beer.

~ S

We’ve been here for a year…Wahoo!

new year's eve 2012

I went to the big box store early yesterday morning.  It’s never the most inspiring place, but a week beyond Christmas it is especially bruising.  Discounted poinsettias sit drooping behind 99 cent wrapping paper and stale candy canes.  The W store was a depressing way to end the year, but I had to buy canned beans.  At my house we eat black-eye peas on New Year’s Day.  It’s a southern tradition and though I’m hardly southern, my grandmother was from Texas and in the panhandle black-eye peas bring good luck.  We eat cornbread and green salsa with our peas and my mother always makes us swallow at least as many peas as we are old (a lot for me this year).  We don’t make a ‘best-of’ list or share resolutions, but we always eat our peas.

The black-eye pea is actually a bean once reserved for cattle and sheep.  On his way to burn Georgia, General Sherman left the “slave’s field peas” to grow and the beans fed the Confederate South.  Black-eye peas are sometimes called mogette – the French word for nun because their black center looks a bit like a nun’s habit.  The black-eye marks the spot where they were attached to the pod – the only evidence of the vivid purple flower that preceded the pea.  It’s seems right that we might eat a simple legume for luck – a food once thought fit only for the most hungry.

As I paid for my peas, the checker asked me if I was planning to make any New Year’s resolutions.  I smiled and shook my head.  For years I have made writing resolutions – to write every day or every week or maybe just every month.  I ate twenty and then thirty and then more black-eye peas hoping for luck and good writing fortune, but New Year’s resolutions seem too trite to hold.  I need habits and deadlines.  So a year ago, my colleagues and I created our own deadlines.  The blog has held me accountable (more or less!).  Every three weeks I force myself to write something that I let the world see.  I have to finish a draft, find an ending, sit with an idea.  It’s a good exercise and the first ‘resolution’ I think I’ve ever managed to keep – a lucky break.

No less than four of my cousins posted black-eye pea stories on-line this morning.  Though we’re scatted around the country, we’ll all be eating our comfort food today – hoping for luck and connection to our distant southern roots.  For me it’s a reminder to take stock and make plans.  Maybe it’s a chance to recommit to habits and deadlines – okay, to resolve – to another year of writing and teaching and thinking.  It’s a chance to plan on another year of being challenged by my students and my colleagues, of trying to work it out with words, of finding some small space to write.  It’s not luck: it’s a gut check.  Happy New Year!

-S