Labor Day. The end of summer. Soon I’ll be leaving the muse-mountains of New Hampshire and heading south, back to Johns Hopkins University to continue my quest to “become a writer.” Summer hasn’t worked out the way I’d planned, which isn’t a huge surprise, since I didn’t really have a plan. Well, I kind of had a plan, and it kind of happened. I did go to Assateague, where beach afternoons held vodka & tonics and distinctly un-literary paperbacks, and the evenings featured friends smashing crabs, sucking oysters, and picking through lobster claws while I used my vegetarianism as an excuse to have third helpings of veggie casserole and corn on the cob.

As planned, my nephew and his four kids descended on Quiet Hills in July, and I returned to childhood for a few weeks as we splashed in the Ashuelot River, caught frogs and toads, reveled in cotton candy, pizza and ice cream, and played Clue and Monopoly before ending the evenings with Tolkien in Middle-earth. I had even planned to maybe consider pondering the notion of starting a blog … and so!

In fact, much of my summer went exactly as planned, but there’s been one crashing failure. I was supposed to throw myself into de-cluttering mode for large blocs of June, July, and August. I donated my Elvis books — a big step in divesting myself of past lives — but beyond that, nada. Why? Why is getting rid of stuff such a huge deal for me? I’m not as bad as the TV show Hoarders, but I can see how they get there.

In lieu of making any actual progress, I bought a few de-cluttering magazines, which provided no assistance and are now cluttering up the couch. Then I signed up for a Feng Shui de-cluttering class at the local community college. The instructor was colorful and billowy and smelled vaguely like a pine tree, or maybe a pile of peat. “My name is Yarrow,” she said. No last name, or maybe that was her last name. She looked like a swami George Harrison might have hung out with.

Yarrow told us about energy spaces and fire and water and yin and yang and color circles and that the bedroom is the most important room and that it needs to be a safe space. This brought to mind the battered cedar trunk that was at the foot of my bed for several decades, a relic from a psychotic roommate who strangled my cat before vanishing. Why on earth had I kept that trunk?

“Where will you start?” The swami billowed up behind me and put her hand on my chair.

“What?” I asked, surprised and feeling oddly guilty, as if I’d been called out for daydreaming in class.

“What’s number one on your plan to create your safe bedroom?”

“Um, the brown dresser, I guess.” I grasped the first thing that came to mind. I hadn’t actually seen the brown dresser in quite some time, but I assumed it was still supporting that massive pile of clothes and shoes.

“Tell us about the brown dresser,” she urged.

“Well,” I said, stalling for time, “it’s brown.”

“Yes?”

“And the finish is gone and its drawers are broken. The clothes are crammed in so that they bulge through the bottom of the drawers.”

She nodded. “And what will you do with this dresser once it’s cleaned out? You’re not going to keep it?” She raised her eyebrows.

I felt surprised and somewhat insulted.  “If I duct tape the drawers again it will last for a while,” I said defensively. “It was my roommate John’s.”

“Ahhh,” she said knowingly. “It was John’s. Now we’re getting somewhere. Tell us about John.”

“John was my roommate for ten years or so,” I said. “We went to high school together. He’s a good friend … or was. He married a woman who I don’t think likes me, so I don’t see him much anymore.” This reasoning sounded lame even to me, and I looked around the room for support.

Everyone was looking at Yarrow, who was making the blah-blah-blah gesture with her fingers, like a yapping Bugs Bunny shadow puppet. “You see?” she said to the class. “This has nothing to do with the dresser. It’s John she’s holding on to. All of this clutter is about emotional attachments. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about emotional attachments.”

Oh. I guess maybe I knew that at some level.

I do know I’m weighed down with a bunch of stuff I don’t want or need.  A brown dresser becomes a fear of abandonment. A faded patchwork skirt embodies a five-year relationship (he had the skirt made for me) and reminds me I’m past the age when I might give birth to the daughter I once planned to give it to. A white ceramic cat that looks like a giant blob of marshmallow crème with a garland of roses stuck in it represents the loss of my mother – she gave it to me, after all; I can’t very well just get rid of it.

Obviously, this is going to be a long journey. An emotional and spiritual expedition with lightness and freedom at the end of it. I hope that writing it down will ensure that this inner and outer de-cluttering becomes a healing process. I’m ready. If you’re a packrat, or if you just like to marvel at the messes people make, you’re welcome to join me. I hope you enjoyed your summer.

Marshmallow Cat

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