Crude Classifications

Friends of mine have had relatives who died leaving a house full of stuff, the junk all mixed in with the valuables. Someone has to put order into the mess and dispose of it. In one particular case, my friends were the only family members willing and able, so they spent two or three whole weeks working full-time to sort through the clutter.

One room in my house, plus several boxes and drawers, nooks and crannies elsewhere, are in need of similar treatment, but I am not dead. If I were dead, it would certainly be easier for someone else to sort through things and quickly figure out that a large part could go in the trash. After all, I don’t have money stashed between the pages of books or in amongst old newspapers, as my father did.

The things of value–well, I just know there is someone in the world who would want them, if I could only locate that person. I also know that I myself want some of the items, but I can’t find them right now, and I’ve forgotten what many of them are….

Faced with this kind of meandering mind, another friend found herself almost wishing (to actually wish it would be an outright sin, so I’m confident that her thoughts were more along the line of vain imaginations, as in counting the serendipitous blessings of something bad happening) that her house would burn down, and reduce the quantity of goods over which she was responsible.

“Crude classifications and false generalizations are the curse of organized life,” said George Bernard Shaw. Whole housefuls classified as “Gone” would be too crude, I’m afraid. A more practical outworking of acquiescence to life thus cursed is the three-box system, by which one sifts one’s possessions into one of three boxes labeled “Toss,” “Give,” or “Keep.” If I could do that, it would at least be a step in the right direction. Later I could sort the “Give” things into about twenty sub-boxes–or maybe reconsider and start another “Toss” box. T.S. Eliot said that “Success is relative: it is what we can make of the mess we have made of things.” I know without a doubt he wasn’t talking about women’s work, but it is a comforting thought.

One large group of belongings is my collection of quotes, some of which you see popping out on this page. Quotes are small and tidy things which is why I have been able to keep them corralled in just four places in one room: a folder in a drawer, books on a shelf, favorites in a small notebook, and digitally on the computer. They are legion and yet not overwhelming in physical size, so I spend enough time with them to keep them disciplined and fairly at-the-ready. See here, I have put several of them to work helping me to tackle my mountains of clutter.

I even managed to cut this blog down from the unwieldy treatise on life that it was originally going to be, and am hopeful about boxing up more of my world into bite-sized chunks for more enjoyment in the future.

As Martha Stewart says, “Life is too complicated not to be orderly.”

3 thoughts on “Crude Classifications

  1. Your slow-but-steady attitude towards organization and housekeeping encourages me. I always put off the entire category of “bringing order to my life” until it takes several days of energy to complete. If I just took small steps every day as you taught me to do, I know it would be much less overwhelming.


  2. I am sure that I wrote a very appreciative comment on this post the other day but I don’t see it here. I know I sent a link of it to someone else I think will appreciate it. I found the connections you make very viable and your use of quotes delightful. Somehow you make a traceable path from possessions, which on the one hand just are what they are, stuff, to the inner man who handles that stuff in search of intangibles. I like this post, greatly. Hmmm … and I am sure that my lost comment was brilliant…but I must have tossed it in the “toss box” absentmindedly.


  3. Slow and stead wins the race; not that paring down is a race but it is a goal, a long term goal.

    Gretchen, thank you for this post. As you might know, I’m in the midst of keeping, selling, tossing and, frankly, am overwhelmed. Dave and I were both gatherers and have amassed a plethora of “stuff”. Some is worth money, some is sentimental, some is purely junk.

    I’m taking two hours a day and putting them toward one room. In that fashion, I hope to whittle down the “stuff”.

    Thank you.


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