The Tidying Battle: Astounding Stockpiles in Which to Lose Yourself

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We’ve got some astounding stockpiles lying around our house.

There are the clothes, mostly clean except for the way they’ve been trampled by half a dozen feet a billion times every day. This stockpile can hold up to five weeks of clean laundry, and no one will even notice they’re living out of a hallway instead of a closet. You might be wondering, why five weeks? That’s how long it takes any of them to realize that maybe they shouldn’t have their underwear littering the stairs when their friends come over—at which point they finally put them away.

There are also the piles of dirty clothes in the boys’ bathroom, because no one can burden himself with walking the long seven steps to the hamper and putting dirty clothes where they belong. They have much better things to do than make sure their dirty clothes get washed. Like wearing their soccer socks for the seventh day in a row.

There are the books that are way, way too numerous but can’t be cleaned out one more time, because I’ve already done that, and the ones left are the ones that are special and wonderful and beautiful, and what would we do without them? I can’t possibly neglect to read my boys Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie and Rebecca, so I just have to keep them all, and, besides, I’ll probably have a granddaughter someday. It’s up to me to preserve all these books for her.

And then there are the papers. The papers are in a whole league of their own. There is nothing quite so astounding in our house as our paper piles.

They build so quickly. Three days of not checking the papers in a school boy’s folder, and suddenly there’s a teetering stockpile. Two minutes of leaving the twins alone while I take a healthy sit-down and there’s another paper stockpile, waving at me from the dining room table. One week of feeling lazy and burned out and I won’t even be able to locate my kids in all the paper.

Husband and I, for a while, had to rent a storage space for all the papers. This may seem extravagant and really silly, but I kid you not. Our storage facility was mostly full of old tax papers. Neither of us is really sure how many years in back taxes we need to keep for auditing purposes, and we’re afraid to throw anything away, lest the IRS comes knocking. Not that we even keep good records. We just have some credit card statements and a whole bin of receipts and the papers we sent out to our tax guy, but, hey, they never said we had to be organized if they ever come peering over our shoulders.

There are bins full of old newspapers where my stories appeared back when I was a reporter. There are the notes from people who appreciated my articles, and there are notes from Husband when we were first dating (which don’t exist electronically anymore, because Hotmail doesn’t even exist anymore. Just kidding. It does. But it’s, like, so 2001.), and there are papers from old college applications and old college essays and old college poems and short stories, because I have to keep it all. There are scrapbooks full of more, you guessed it, papers.

It’s so hard to get rid of these old papers.

Not too long ago, we cleaned out that storage space, because we’d finally had enough of paying money just to keep a bunch of papers, and the storage owners were telling us we needed to have insurance on the space, so the cost would go up, and we decided that we’d stick all those bins of papers out in our garage, and, piece by piece, clean it out.

It’s been sitting there for nine months now.

Our garage used to be a playroom for our children. Now you can hardly walk in it, and it’s all because of the papers.

Sometimes I daydream about going on a rampage, sneaking into the garage and dumping everything out without looking at it and bagging it all up to put out front so it’s the trash guy’s problem now. But then I wonder what I might possibly be missing out on, like maybe some old letters I haven’t read in ten years or our old wedding programs back when trendy design wasn’t really a thing and they looked like they’d been put together in Microsoft Word. Or maybe those newspaper articles from twelve years ago, even though I’ve changed my career and will probably never work for a newspaper again, and, anyway, it’s all digital now, and all I’d have to do is google my old journalist name, Rachel L. Toalson, to see all the things I’ve written.

I know all this. I know everything in there is old and that I probably wouldn’t miss it if it were to disappear. But the fear is real. It really is. What if there is SOMETHING, in all that useless stuff, that would unwittingly be thrown away because I didn’t take the time to sort through it, and it was IMPORTANT? What would we do then? How would we possibly survive?

So we keep all those bins that clog up our garage, and children try as best they can to maneuver through the obstacle course to reach the toys that are supposed to remain hidden from them unless a parent is there to help. Unfortunately, we have to send much younger legs in there, because it’s a death hazard for anyone taller than four feet and older than 30. What we need is a weekend away from all the kids so we can sort through it all, but the problem is, all I want to do when the grandparents keep the kids for the weekend is sleep.

One time we sent the kids away to the grandparents, and we did clean up the playroom, an entire weekend devoted to the tidying up, and that playroom looked so good we sat in there to watch a movie because you could actually see ten feet in front of you, and, also, you could breathe. But then the kids came home, and it took them all of twenty-three seconds to undo our work, because they were just so excited about a clean playroom and all.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that our stockpiles don’t stay in the garage, though. They’ve gathered on our kitchen counters and our dining room table (what is a table except a place to put a stack of paper?) and in the corners of our bedroom. I blame it on the billions of school papers our kids bring home every day and the junk mail companies that really, really like us. It’s definitely not because we’ve never mastered the art of filing.

I’m sure we’ll get a handle on these papers one of these days. Probably right after we adopt the Just Throw it All Away method of tidying. Which will probably be…never.

I mean, what if there’s something important in that stack?

This is an excerpt from The Life-Changing Madness of Tidying Up After Children, the second book in the Crash Test Parents series. For more of Rachel’s writings, visit her web site.