Saturday, February 23, 2008

Wasting Spoons


Hi. My name is Jeri and I'm a pack rat. I have been all my life and I'm not sure there's any hope for me. I'd really like to change but every time I make an effort to clean a spot in any given area of my home, it ends up becoming a prime location for everyone in the house to set stuff down. This could be solved simply by removing or inclining every flat surface in the house but then it would be hard to eat dinner with everything sliding on the floor.

Even though I have had a predilection for hording stuff and not putting things in their place all my life, (read: pre-MS) I like to use the good old Fatigue Excuse for not dealing with doing something about it now. I can't waste my spoons! I read the story (in which, for people with chronic illness -- lupus in the story, your energy allotment for the day equals so many spoons) and I decided that my spoons are more important than any amount of housework. Finally! I've been given a legitimate excuse not to force myself to deal with the clutter! The only thing better would be a prescription from the doc stating "under no circumstances should this woman clean anything." That would be SWEET.

So now, as I sit surrounded by stacks of papers that should be filed, projects that have been started and abandoned mid-inspiration, and baskets of clothes that have been searching for their long lost birth dresser, I wonder how others with MS are managing. I mean, even though I do have some fatigue and need to take afternoon naps, it's not like I'm on Provigil or something. I don't have it so bad that it has affected my daily routine other than to give me a get out of housecleaning free ticket.

I told myself that I can be happy living like this because it's a waste of spoons to spend all day cleaning. But deep down, I feel like if I really applied myself (and rented a backhoe and a dumpster) that I could have a house that had that minimalist, zen-like appearance that is so calming.

Instead, I clean one section of a room and then put on mental blinders and look only at that clean spot, relishing the idea that if I could encourage clean spots to grow the way clutter seems to my whole house would erupt in plain white walls, polished floors and flat surfaces holding only those indoor sandboxes with the tiny rakes, or maybe groups of black shiny stones that look cool but have no purpose.

I have tried to tackle this problem in the past many times to no avail. I signed up for Fly Lady's email list only to discover my inbox looked like the rest of my house in a matter of minutes. I quickly unsubscribed. Being bombarded with emails telling me I had to get completely dressed every morning including the shoes goes against my philosophy that shoes are footwear for outside the house and my pink fuzzy slippers are acceptable daytime wear when indoors.

I've also bought books over the years to learn how to de-clutter. Last weekend I decided to tackle a closet whose door had not been opened in several years. I found tons of saved gift wrapping paper, empty containers that would be good for holding stuff some day, and paint cans with the remainder of whatever color the spare room had been painted 2 colors ago (in case of needing a touch up). I removed a Lawn and Leaf bag full of useless things I couldn't part with and underneath the stuff on the shelf, guess what I found!?? A book called 500 Terrific Ideas For Cleaning Everything. Honest to God.

All of this is amusing, no doubt, but it's left my mind just as cluttered as my living conditions and wondering if there's a health benefit that could be obtained by sacrificing my spoons for the betterment of my environment. After all, I don't work outside the home and can pretty much take a nap any time I want to. What's it going to hurt to really roll up my sleeves and make a dent in this stuff? Will applying myself bring on a much feared relapse? Does living in clutter cause a mental funk that is conducive to possible exacerbations?

All I know is that Better Homes and Gardens ("than Mine", the cover seems to scream) will never be beating a path to my door no matter how clean I get the joint. Knowing this, what is an acceptable level of clutter? I would really like to get to the bare walls and floor and start over and find out.

I was in a flood once as a kid and we lost a lot of earthly belongings. It makes you realize that "stuff" is NOT important. We had our family and everyone made it through the ordeal none the worse for wear. That was all that really mattered.... so why is it now so hard to part with "stuff"? Some phd guy could probably tell me, but I want a real answer that doesn't uproot my subconscious in the explanation process.

If I fear a relapse so badly that I can't lift a finger to file some papers because I might tax myself, then I'm wasting my good years doing nothing while I'm completely capable of doing lots of things. Sure, if I take the fatigue into account, life has become harder, but I have seen people in wheelchairs who have accomplished more in their lives that I am doing with my body whose legs still get me around. I'd at least like to die with a clean house one day and have my headstone read "She gave up her spoons for a zen-like existence". Better than going out in a blaze of clutter and having my headstone read "if we could have only gotten to her in that maze of stuff, she might have been saved."

It would help if 2 other people in the house weren't also pack rats. They don't even have the moral struggle with it that I do. They are oblivious to the CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome -- see FlyLady.com). I'm sure the conversation that goes on in their minds as they lay down their tools from the day's remodeling project or their backpack from school goes something like this:

"Geeze, she hasn't even cleaned a spot for me to set this junk down! What am I supposed to do with it? Oh well, maybe it'll balance here. Man, she needs to do something about this." (big crash behind them as they walk away and don't look back to investigate).

I guess I just found the reason those clean spots don't grown. I'm going out to buy a new set of spoons and roll up my sleeves. The only way to test out the theory that a clean house is a health benefit for your mind, body and soul is to actually put it to the test.

I will watch a marathon of Clean Sweep shows where people whose homes are way worse than mine have a make over and get de-cluttered, then pump myself up saying "you can do this! You can throw out that pair of jeans you haven't worn in 10 years or that packing slip from something you got in the mail 2 years ago!" But then I get suspicious that Clean Sweep never does follow up stories 2 months later to see if the newly decorated space is chock full of clutter again. All they did was give the pack rats a whole new set of flat surfaces that invite the full arms to empty spontaneously.

Whew! Just writing about it has warn me out! Maybe I and my spoons will go curl up in the easy chair and gaze at that clean spot over in the corner and drift off into a blissfully uncluttered dream. I hear Fatigue calling. Gotta go.

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