cleaning out

Clutter makes me claustrophobic. I actually enjoy people-watching in large public crowds - but crowded living spaces make me uneasy. And nothing eases my mind more than cleaning out clutter. In the past, my reckless trash dumping incurred the scorn of my wife. But I've learned to ask before trashing any of her items. My guiding principle: if it hasn't been worn or used within the last year, it gets dumped.

I would love to have one empty room in my house to enjoy. My first apartment in college featured a mattress on the floor and a foldaway majhong table for my computer. My minimalist approach comes from my upbringing in my parents' house. They have plenty of clear spaces and long hallways. And nearly half the house goes unused unless we entertain people. At night, my dad is known to disappear and stroll to these mysterious parts of the house in the dark. His trail is often marked by fingersnapping, clapping and whispers to himself. I guess that's his method of processing thoughts.

In contrast to my minimalist ways, my wife enjoys collecting and decorating. Clutter makes her feel cozy. I discovered the origins of this preference when I visited her parents' home in Japan. The house was fairly modest - which is very common since space is such a precious commodity in Tokyo. But it was filled with little goodies - traveling souvenirs, pictures, ornaments, clocks and calendars. Every room had multiple calendars. Calendars sponsored by tv networks, cartoons, schools, offices and subway lines. A giant art calendar hung in the toilet room, where I suppose you could chart your regularity. My mother-in-law also collects dolls - specifically Barbies. Maybe this curious penchant for collecting runs in the family. My wife's brother is a notorious souvenir hunter and pack rat - usually to the dismay of his wife.

By the end of Sunday's clean sweep, I managed to fill up 4 trash bags of junk and 8 trash bags of clothes. I thought about selling the clothes to a thrift shop on South St. (I've made good money from them before) but I was so overwhelmed that I just drove to the nearest clothing donation bins and dumped them in. It was a liberating experience.

Does 8 bursting hefty bags of clothes from the last couple years sound crazy? We shouldn't be shocked. There are certain things that make me break my purging ways. Namely clothes and sneakers. My wife and I are not in denial of our shopping habits and its dangerous when both partners in the relationship enjoy shopping. Moving to the retail hell of Jersey hasn't helped either. We actually go store to store pressuring each other to buy stuff. We end up going back and forth like Federer & Nadal with a game of "I found something, but I won't buy it unless you find something too..." until the bills bring us down to earth. And then we end up with 8 bags of throwaway clothes.

In my previous job, I shared experiences with fellow sneakerfreaks and clotheshorses. We collected and obsessed. But my new department is older and a bit more staid. Nobody rocks any fresh gear. Its not a priority and my ways are a curiousity to them. A few weeks ago while eating lunch with my department people, one co-worker turned to me, paused in deep contemplation, and asked, "Hey, what do you have more of ... sneakers or watches?" I blurted out that I easily have more sneakers (35 and counting) and that I don't have many watches - just 9. I caught a few bulging eyes and smiling questions about my closet space. I realized that these guys wear one watch and rotate the same 2 pairs of shoes every week. I'm sure they think its strange or shallow - but everybody has some peculiar obsession(s) in their life. At least I don't make a secret of mine.


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