Cleaning Out the House

Robin Botie of Ithaca, new York, photoshops a mandala of an avalanche of papers and books falling from her closets when she cleans out her house.“Don’t give me anything unless I can eat it,” I keep telling family and friends as holidays approach. Meanwhile, the health club hounds me to participate in some program where I can win prizes. “No more stuff. Please. I have too much.”

My material possessions are weighing me down. They’re increasing my carbon footprint. And having cleaned up after several deceased loved ones, I can’t bear the thought of anyone I love having to clean up after me. So I’m unloading the contents of my house.

I used to be a tosser. For every new thing I brought home, I’d toss out two things, or ten. But then they started charging for garbage disposal. I began to stash things. My house, designed to have no wasted space, had closets and cabinets built into every soffit, staircase, and odd-angled corner, for maximum storage capability. And over the years I stuffed them to the gills.

I’ve read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book by Marie Kondo. And each year I’ve done spring-cleaning rituals, but stuff comes in faster than I can remove it. I needed help.

I was embarrassed to ask. Friends think my house is clean and orderly, never having opened one of my cabinets to then be blasted by an avalanche of books and papers. My sister, with brutal sisterly honesty, would accuse me of being a closet hoarder and point out the relationship between hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If only I could hire some young adventurous person just starting out in her life, at the collecting-stuff stage, I thought. Someone who was my size so I’d be inspired to give away more of my clothes. Someone who wasn’t afraid of mice. Who could cart away all the things that threatened to bury me. Who’d say, “Why do you need this?” and “Does it really bring you joy?” Someone committed to redistributing and recycling, not simply ditching it all at the dump.

“Do you know anyone I could hire to help clear out my closets?” I asked the guy sealing my windows with shrink-wrap, who had gathered boulders and built a patio next to my pond this past summer. The one who had calmly walked away instead of strangling me during one of my most obnoxious hissy-fits. The Buddhist.
“Yes. Me,” he said. And it took a moment to let go of the image of the young clone of myself I’d imagined, and it took another minute to remember how Buddhists believe that attachment to material things is a major cause of suffering.
“Can you deal with mouse droppings?” I asked.


Are you a tosser or a hoarder? Can we gain more happiness from having less?

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4 thoughts on “Cleaning Out the House

  1. Monica Sword

    I’m a tosser with most things. Having less feels liberating for me. So I would say that increases my happiness. I no longer stockpile household supplies or canned goods. I suppose having “lost” so much, I no longer prepare like the end of the world is imminent, since I’ve already experienced the worst. Sounds like The Buddhist will be the perfect closet cleaner for you. Good luck!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      It IS liberating, Monica. That’s the perfect word to describe how I’m feeling. And I’m in love with my home once again, going around the place admiring the surfaces I haven’t seen in a decade or more. Let the world end – I’m light enough now to simply fly away. Yes, you’ve experienced the worst already. I wonder of this time of the year is crazy-hard on you too? Wishing you the best this winter. Although we could both say we’ve already experienced the best. My hope for us all is that there’s more Wonderful to come. Cheers!

  2. Elaine Mansfield

    I get it. I’m doing the same. I’m not a hoarder, but I’m not as good at throwing out stuff as I used to be. This is a big old house with big closets and I’ve lived here since 1972. Vic’s mom gave me her boxes of stuff like Vic’s drawings when he was 6 and newspaper clippings–some interesting and some to be tossed. I got boxes from my mom and grandma. I began going through those. It’s interesting to look at the old photos, sort them, label them, but I have bigger fish to fry so plan to return to dresser drawers that never get opened, upstairs closets with clothes that don’t fit and old fitted sheets with dead elastic, and the endless jars in the cellar. Then I’ll turn back to the photos. I still haven’t dealt with Vic’s meticulous notebooks of well-culled slides that need to be digitalized. They’re the images of my life. This might take a long, long time. I have someone to help, but there are so many decisions.

  3. Lynne Taetzsch

    Hey, Robin, looks like you found the right person to help with this!

    I’m a tosser myself. I can’t stand clutter. So I often get rid of things I wish I hadn’t six months later. I also hate shopping, so I don’t accumulate much. But I don’t think it’s a virtue–just my habit.

    Good luck with your de-cluttering project!


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