I am watching television in the basement when…
Bump, thump, bump, CRASH!
An avalanche of household goods cascades down the basement stairs.
“What the…?” I cry.
“Put your junk away!” my wife yells. A moment later a 50′ extension cord whistles through the air and flops on the carpet.
Throwing stuff down the stairs is her way of moving things from the upstairs to the downstairs. She has bad knees, so it is understandable that she avoids using the stairs whenever she can – but being married to me, it is also understandable that she uses a dramatic flair whenever she can.
I examine the stuff at the bottom of the steps. I find an old-style phone charger resting across the litter of several magazines, all featuring Jennifer Aniston on the cover, and a sponge mop leaning precariously against the stairway wall.
“Hey,” I yell back up the stairs, “Nothing here is mine.” I place emphasis on the word mine to distinguish ownership from ours.
“Well, it doesn’t belong up here.”
“Then throw it away,” I yell.
“I want to keep it,” she says.
“Then find a home for it.”
“I just did,” she snaps.
“So what am I supposed to do with it?”
“Throw it on THE PILE.”
THE PILE is an interesting geological feature that emerged from the southeast corner of our basement soon after we moved in. It consists of all the things my wife wants to keep but does not want to see.
But the basement is the only place where I get to see the stuff that I want to keep. It is my domain and therefore things in the THE PILE that are not mine, inevitably and slyly, work their way back up the stairs.
This re-circulation process – whereby items fly down the stairs then surreptitiously crawl back up is known as The Clutter Cycle.
It begins when an object finds its way into the stream of daily life. For several days, this newly acquired thing will merrily ply the eddies of everyday use, bobbing and twirling about until we lose interest in it and it becomes clutter.
The sports section of a newspaper carelessly cast upon the floor will inevitably attract another section of the newspaper – which in turn becomes the base for next week’s edition. Soon a novel joins it – then a pair of tennis shoes and perhaps a plate or even a pot roast will settle in – and before you know it, the house has become host to a full-blown reef.
Reefs are excellent places to sprinkle magazines that endlessly about babble on about Jennifer Aniston. So it is there that I reintroduce them into The Clutter Cycle.
If an item is small, I return it to The Junk Drawer.
The drawer holds everything that cannot be excluded by size. It is the tar pit of our household, the site where archaeologists will one day dig to learn our ancient secrets.
“Oh look! I found a cabinet knob!” one future archaeologist will cry as she hands it to her colleague, “Could this be the remnant of cabinets gone by?”
“Naw,” her colleague will say, “it is an artifact of a promise gone by. The one where Greg promised to replace the knobs in the vanity but forgot where he tossed them.”
If the object is large, I will stash it in The Stair That Lead Nowhere.
Behind a door in our hall, a long stairway ascends straight up into the ceiling. It is if the contractors who built our house were not on speaking terms. The roofer apparently was not informed that our house was designed to be two stories and the carpenter who built the stairs left it there as a joke.
We place things we want to keep handy at the bottom of The Stairs That Lead Nowhere and we toss the stuff we don’t want to keep handy up the stairs. Of course, the junk at the top gets jealous and slides down to the bottom.
But no worries, whenever we want something, we simply open the door and everything tumbles out. In the process of tossing everything back in, we stand a good chance of finding what we are looking for.
So with the magazines stashed in the living room reef, the phone charger buried in the junk drawer and the mop and extension cord tossed to the top of the stairs that lead nowhere, I return to the contentment of the basement.
Then my wife’s phone rings. Through the floor, I hear faint murmuring and mutterings for the better part of an hour before the conversation is concluded with an audible GASP!
Bump, thump, bump, CRASH!
“What the…?” I cry. But I get no response. All I hear is footsteps scurrying frantically overhead.
After threading my way up the stairs, I ask, “What is going on?”
She shoves a large section of the reef into my arms. “I am hosting a baby shower on Friday. Do something with this!”
“But.. but..” I stutter.
“Quite arguing and get busy – and for Pete Sake, do something about YOUR Pile in the Basement.”