I'VE SPENT AN UNREASONABLE AMOUNT OF TIME in the past few weeks lingering among the school supplies section of SuperTarget – not for the typical reasons of stockpiling classroom provisions or picking up last-minute locker décor for my kids – but for that singular thrill I indulge annually … perusing, admiring and coveting supplies I don’t need, but purchase anyway.
I gladly take credit for singlehandedly keeping the school supplies industry in the (felt-tipped) black every fall. Who can resist a fresh box of colored pencils (free sharpener with purchase!), new spirals (now with protective covers on the wires – genius), 3-hole-punched notebook filler paper with reinforcements already on the holes, and (be still, my heart) a pack of Sharpies in every color of the spectrum?
It’s exactly this unbridled “gathering” instinct that prompted my husband to buy me several hours of consultation with a professional organizer whose purpose was to come to my house and echo the familiar refrains of the very lessons my parents attempted (but failed) to instill in me back when the 64-pack of crayons was a legitimate purchase:
1.) A place for everything and everything in its place.
2.) Put things back where they belong and you’ll always know where to find them when you need them.
3.) Clean your room.
If it were fiscally possible (I spent my money on a new backpack), I’d put the professional organizer on our payroll to follow me around and remind me which things I no longer need and where to put away the things worth keeping. As it was, our de-hoarding took place over several appointments, through which we made some progress, which is to say that if you stuck a sponge into the Atlantic Ocean, you might soak up some water.
Bringing someone from the outside into your home to “de-clutter” is a lesson in honesty. As each stash was pulled from the recesses of one cabinet, drawer or closet, I felt compelled to offer a confession and a quick justification for why I owned and kept this thing or that. By the end of the second session, the organizer was convinced that I had bigger problems than a healthy school supplies fetish.
“Is there a reason you’re keeping an Indian headdress in the front closet?” the organizer might ask.
“Well, we’ve used it three times in the past two weeks, so it seemed more convenient just to keep it near the door and grab it on the way out,” I’d reply matter-of-factly. “Where else should a person keep a headdress?” I wanted to know.
Certain items surfaced during the organizing process which, I argued, conveyed an admirable earnestness on my part for cleaning up my act: a bounty of storage containers, laundry baskets and “getting organized” books.
“You have a lot of things that suggest you’re planning to get organized one day,” she casually observed. “That’s pretty common with a lot of my special cases,” she added.
Special cases?! In a matter of seconds, I’d advanced from being a gal with a harmless fondness for purses, sunglasses, white T-shirts, Gladware, hotel shampoos, Swiffer attachments, gardening gloves, boots, umbrellas, tabbed index cards, Rubbermaid tubs and bold-point (blue ink) gel pens to being a special case.
The organizer pressed on, testing my resolve to keep multiples of items I’d require in order to be prepared for certain occasions (“That’s right, sometimes I wear Spanx three at a time.”) and essential supplies I’d surely need for future projects (“It’s a high-speed bobbin threader. A real timesaver!”).
I felt a sense of urgency to defend her rapid-fire accusations that were thinly disguised as “organizational prioritizing”:
“How many pairs of scissors can you use at one time?”
“Do you do a lot of soldering?”
“Are you planning to make a cathedral-sized, stained glass piece any time soon?”
“Exactly how many pairs of black pumps does one woman need?”
“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that wallpaper will make a comeback one day. Won’t you want to buy a current pattern at that time?”
When our purchased hours ran out, I promised the organizer that I’d follow through on her instructions – throwing out two items any time I bring in one, keeping my favorite one thing when I have multiples, etc.
Even as a “special case,” I appreciate the organizer’s inherent sense of order, helping me carve out more space around the house and create a more efficient system of organization. I’ll be sending her a thank you note soon.
But first, I’m going to need a new pack of pens …