Stuff it


Something is in the air. Smells like a heady mixture of disinfectant and elbow grease.

Biff is on his usual purge. Except it’s more crusade, less housecleaning. When he tossed out (more like sold off) his extensive comics collection a few years back, that was a surprise. It was like he was throwing away a large part of his never-ending childhood.

I admired the cleansing, and yet wept at the rite of passage.

Last week, when my lunch companion announced her ideal state of being was to own three robes and a bowl at a monastery, I applauded her foolish foolish decision. (Two people = trend!)

“Your stuff can be your prison,” I wisely declared, masking my great shame.

I am a lifelong packrat.


In a newsroom, this sickness is easy to hide. Heck, you’re among friends. Each cubicle and horizontal surface becomes a stockpile of clutter. I mercilessly teased the reporters, even as my own double cubicle barely had space for one of me.

My old apartment could barely contain the piles of newspapers and childhood junk that crept in in the dark of night, unbeknownst to the sleeping master. You could come over, but only with advance notice, and enough time to squirrel away scraps of paper and books and magazines and file folders and hardware odds and ends.

And then, you couldn’t go into the bedroom, lest these hordes of bric-a-brac jump you and shake you down for money or a used wilting tissue.

My house has been the ultimate enabler. More square footage! More closets! More doors to hide my sorry ways.

During those rare events when I host my non-imaginary friends, the cleanup begins at dawn. I head down to the gas station on Lorna and hire three to five immigrants (never documented — they charge too much) and pile them into my SUV. We stop by the rental place to check out a mini-backhoe and a various power tools.

Using a series of hand gestures and crudely drawn blueprints, I direct these laborers to organize my vast collection of miscellany into “room piles”:

  • dining room: tools and supplies;
  • living room: published works;
  • office: kitchen stuff (extra dishes, worn-out pans, shoppers’ club cola);
  • kitchen: all cat-related items (minus cats);
  • bedroom: boxes for charity groups, eBay sales;
  • craft room: out-of-season clothes;
  • sunroom: needlepoint and/or cross-stitch implements.

So it goes until lunch. “Manuel,” I call, “you know that chafing dish doesn’t go in the bedroom pile.” (I call them all “Manuel” to save time.)


The afternoon is devoted to the real backbreaking labor: concealing the room piles above false ceilings. It’s not as complicated as it sound, and I know for a fact that Oprah uses a similar method at her beach houses.

The pile is hoisted in a fine-mesh cargo net (available cheaply second-hand if you know the right dock foreman, which I do). Suspended from the ceiling, it’s virtually invisible to the casual observer.

However, I insist on supreme effort for a supreme effect. (I am a walking motivational poster.)

The crew of Manuels hammer together a stud frame approximately 18 inches from the ceiling. Using a quick-dry stucco I formulated back in my “cousins” days, I have them create a false ceiling in each room. As they hitchhike back to down I-65, pockets stuffed with “Alabama Adventure Bucks,” I prepare myself for the evening’s guests, who will no doubt marvel at my tidy, if somewhat bacheloresque, interior.

Spring cleaning is for suckers and cultists. Spring gorging is the new black.

I look forward to my golden years, never lonely, never far from my stockpile of everyday treasures. They, along with the pack of rats that nest among their numerous nooks and crannies, will comfort me in my waning years.

Rosebud, I shall never forsake thee.

  • 08.04.04: Too much stuff leads to chaotic organizing

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