Before I had even finished the first chapter, I set myself to doing everything in the book. I got three boxes which I marked “Give Away,” “Put Away,” and “Throw Away.” Starting at the first piece of furniture by the front door, which was the sofa, I picked up one item at a time and sorted it into its appropriate box. Some things were easy to classify: Popsicle wrappers were throw-aways; puppets from the church puppet ministry were put-aways.
Other things were harder: Like, what was to be done with two years worth of Reader’s Digest magazines on the coffee table? Don’t magazines belong on coffee tables? How many magazines? What if we needed some of the information they contained? Besides, the collection belonged to Dan, not me. My husband loved Reader’s Digest. I, on the other hand, found it to be a source of humiliation, as he beat me at “Word Power” month after month. I found another box and marked it, “Ask Dan.” I was on a crusade to save my house, and I could not let a few magazines slow me down. Besides, unlike Joan of Arc, I did not want to get burned at the stake.
I moved from one piece of furniture to the next, sorting and tossing. By the end of the first day, I had decluttered my entire living room and most of the kitchen. Whenever the throw away box got filled, I walked it out to community dumpster at the end of my street. I filled garbage sacks with give-away stuff and put them in the trunk of my car to take to the thrift store. I did my best to find homes for all the items that needed to be put away, but sometimes, I didn’t know where things belonged. I still had to take care of a nursing baby, a toddler and all their cloth diapers, but I was making genuine progress. When Dan came home that evening, he was a little dubious about my new crusade. He was afraid that I would blithely toss out his stuff. I showed him the “Ask Dan” box, crossed my fingers behind my back, and promised to be respectful of his possessions.
He wanted to hang on to the Reader’s Digests because he thought it might be nice to have a complete collection, but he agreed that I only needed to keep the two most current issues on the coffee table. I boxed up the rest, labeled them and stuffed them in the shed with his box of ironing.
The next day, after a successful decluttering session, I loaded up the girls in their double stroller, propped the diaper pail on the back of it, and headed over to the Laundromat on the other side of the mobile home park with my fabulous new book in hand. It was a beautiful summer day, and my house looked cleaner than it ever had under my watch. I left both the front and back doors of the trailer open to air out. . It was the first time I had ever felt the freedom to fling my doors open wide for God and all of humanity to see.
When Dan drove into our street that afternoon, he was met with two unmarked police cars and FBI agents pointing guns at the trailer across the street from ours. They yelled at him to stay back, but he rushed past them, frantic to get into the house. The place looked stripped clean; his wife and children were missing, and FBI agents were holding some criminal at bay across the street. He could only assume the worst!
“Where are my wife and daughters?” he called out to the police.
“Stay back, sir,” they barked.
After the worst five minutes of Dan’s life, a strange man emerged from the mobile home across the street with his hands over his head. The excitement was over.
“Where’s my wife?” Dan yelled at the officers. They did not answer, but only escorted the suspect into their vehicle and drove away.
He ran across the street to find out what happened. The neighbors had let a casual friend from out of town flop on their couch for a few days, and it turned out that the guy had been robbing banks all over the state. Dan was relieved, but that still did not explain why his family, and what looked like most of his worldly goods, were missing from his home. Meanwhile, I was peacefully unaware of the hullabaloo, reading my great new organizational book and hanging diapers on the clothesline beside the Laundromat. By the time I returned home to cook his dinner, I was happy and relaxed, and he was totally freaked out.
I was not missing, and neither was any of our stuff. The house just looked clean, that was all! My small amount of effort was already accomplishing great things.