From The Trenches
Vol. 36 No. 2: The fringe benefits of decluttering
I love collections; it's clutter I loathe.
I can hear you snickering all the way from here, and I don't blame you. Anyone who's been collecting anything for longer than a week knows that embracing collections while eschewing clutter is like trying to sweep a dirt floor. You can do it all day long, but you're still going to wake up to a dirt floor.
Seems to me the core problem is that it's impossible to collect anything without also inviting all its first cousins into the house: the books and magazines about the collectibles, the cases and stands to store and display the collectibles, and the research notes and stacks of computer printouts of comparables or want-to-haves, none of which ever seem to get tossed or filed.
Then, in addition to the lookie-me pieces that are actually displayed, there are the what-was-I-thinking mistakes shamefacedly cowering in the closets and the so-so examples relegated to collectibles purgatory in spots around the house, usually drawers and cabinets that will barely close anymore.
Don't try to look innocent. I'd lay money on every one of you having at least one bedroom bureau drawer that's worse than the kitchen junk drawer. I know you, for am one of you.
So my New Year's resolution was to do a brutal, full-on frontal attack on at least one closet , drawer, or trunk every day. I did this accompanied by "Whistle While You Work." As if. For collectors, a clean-out deserves a dirge, so I did it accompanied by my paraphrased version of Billie Holiday's plaintive ballad "Good Morning, Heartache."
Good morning, clutter, you old unruly sight,
Good morning, clutter, I tried to say good-bye last night.
I threw out dreck all night long,
But here you are with the dawn.
Wish I'd just pitch you, but you're here to stay.
It seems I met you when my sense went away.
Now every day I start by saying to you,
Good morning, clutter, what's new?*
I know. I'm not quitting my day job.
In the course of this daily battle with the intrinsic anarchy of stuff, I made some startling discoveries. Among them was the piece that started it all.
Yes, deep in a trunk that also cradled my kindergarten report card (A+ in manners but "needs to be less shy"), I found the piece that was originally responsible for my life ever since occasionally spiraling into a muddle of "Oh, let's keep that" disarray.
It's a piece of fringe. You read that right. A piece of fringe. When I was a little kid, my mother made a set of Austrian window shades, and there were little bits of fringe left over. I kept one and named it Fringe Benefit. (I'm surprised my kindergarten report card didn't say "Must learn to avoid atrocious puns." Or better, "For the love of God, give her a pony so she quits playing with fringe, because that's just weird.")
Anyway, signifying that it was the root cause of the problem is that I still had Fringe Benefit more than 17,000 days later. Scary math.
I also found some genuine treasures, including the 40-year-old business card of the man responsible for my affection for militaria. It wasn't his actual business card. It was the one he handed out to blowhards. On crisp white stock with handsomely embossed letters, it presented his name, Malcolm Vincent Dearing, gave his company name as "Yggdrasil," and described his position as "Assistant Norn."
In ancient Norse mythology the Yggdrasil is a huge and holy tree, and the Norns are virgins who determine the fates of men. Malcolm handed the ersatz business cards to bumptious know-it-alls just for the joy of watching them read it, nod sagely, and say, "Oh, yes, well, of course. Interesting line of work. I have a nephew in that."
Is it any wonder I was nuts about Uncle Malcolm?
Malcolm was a serious collector of Pickelhauben and international orders, medals, and decorations, and—well, pretty much anything, including coins and stamps. He and I never knew if his love of collecting infected me or if he and I were both genetically doomed from birth.
Operation Cleanout also resulted in what I've come to think of as the parable of the prodigal bottle.
Decades ago, before I developed any affinity for early glass, I set aside a decanter that didn't appeal. Years passed, my tastes changed, and one day, to my horror, I discovered that what I had so cavalierly dismissed in my callow youth was a highly collectible and coveted piece.
But where had I put it? The search from attic to basement was fruitless. At one point I was so disheartened I almost bought an overpriced replacement just so I could quit kicking myself.
Guess what I just found.
The Operation Cleanout ratio for all of the above is 2:1. The decanter and business card are staying.
Fringe Benefit has left the building. It's gotten as far as a trash bag on the back porch. I can still retrieve it if I want, and tonight might be a nail-biter.
Good mornin', clutter, what's new? —Ed. (Nancy Dearing Rossbacher)
*Original "Good Morning Heartache" lyrics © Songwriters Guild of America, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. If you don't know the melody, youtube it and you'll see why it's the editor's clutter song. Substitute "clutter" for every mention of "heartache."
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