Salad Eater is a highly organized pack rat. I am messy person who doesn't like to accumulate junk (except kitchen gadgets--I'm weak). Of all the differences between us, this is the one that causes the most stress.
And by "stress" I mean "clutter."
And by "clutter" I mean "an apartment you can barely move around in and wouldn't invite people to."
Anyway, it's something we go around and around about. I have a hard time organizing. I can put things away if I know where she's decided they should go, but if I don't, I can stand in the middle of a room with a piece of paper in my hand for five minutes, looking looking looking for someplace appropriate to put it.
And she collects all kinds of stuff and hates to throw things away. We have a cabinet full of old jars, more jars on the counter behind the coffee maker, in a bag on the kitchen floor and on a shelf back in storage. We have chairs in every room, and about five of them are not currently piled with stuff, if we count the three we eat meals on.
Some of what we have is stuff we have to keep. Salad Eater's a painter, and we have canvases along the bedroom hall that narrow it to half its original size and we have more in an alcove in the boy's room and even more in our bedroom. In fact, we have three bookcases in our bedroom that are set about a foot and a half away from the wall so canvases can be stored behind them. The front of the bookcases are mostly blocked by two chairs with loads of crap piled on them.
You get the idea. Our apartment is full of stuff, the walkway by our door is the same, and the teeny front yard is full of chairs and digging equipment and wooden scraps for building and what have you.
So we go around and around about this. I think we should get rid of stuff. Salad Eater just wants a couple hours along to reorganize it. She wins the argument, I take Mango Eater someplace for a long while and when we come back she has, indeed, reorganized and given us more space.
She's a whiz at this.
But it can't last, partly because I'm flummoxed by the process, partly because things are so tightly packed that it's cluttered and unsustainable.
So we have periodic pushes to simplify, usually after she comes back from visiting her parents. They're pack rats, too. Not crazy levels of hoarding, just too much stuff that might be useful someday covering every horizontal surface above floor level.
So we picked up a couple books recommended by a friend and we steel ourselves to simplify and eliminate. Friday night I filed a big box with software I'm never going to use again, old folders, clip-on book lights, squeeze bottles I bought but never used and outdated computer cables. It's a start, right?
Previous times that we simplified, it was books and clothes. I filled 3 boxes with books I was ready to give away--things I didn't like or bought on impulse at a yard sale and hung on to because I hadn't read it (and never would). Salad Eater found a grand total of 5 books she was willing to part with.
Last year I went through all my clothes and gave away anything that had shrunk too small. My wife kept saying things like "I can't believe you have the guts to do this" to which I could only say "They don't fit me anymore!"
Which makes her sound a little nuts, but you know what? The year I met her, she lived on six thousand dollars of income for the entire year, with no outside help. She did it by doing without, by making do, by gardening a great deal of her food, and by reusing like crazy. One of the survival tricks to being poor is that you keep hold of resources. When you have leftover tomato sauce, you can throw it away or save it, and if you save it you need a nice clean jar for it. Know what I mean?
But still, I started a pile of stuff to give to charity. That afternoon, Salad Eater attacked a chair full of old containers they have used for the boy's "experiments." So things were on their way. It was all the easy stuff, but it was a beginning.
Saturday morning, we made a list of things to do, starting with organizing Mango Eater's room and taking all the books he didn't want anymore and getting them ready to donate to the library. In part, that's a smart choice because we don't have to threaten Salad Eater's stuff and we know he has things he wouldn't care about getting rid of. Like I said, easy stuff.
But while they were doing that and I was cleaning off my desk, the mail arrived. Remember that letter I mentioned in the subject line? The landlord apparently received a complaint from the city, most likely originating with one of our lovely neighbors, about the amount of stuff outside our apartment.
Just to be clear, you can't see any of it from the sidewalk, since we are up on a hill and behind a good bit of greenery. It's only because one of the tenants has moved out and they're trying to show the place that they even noticed.
And honestly, I can't blame them.
So we received a letter letting us know what is and isn't allowed outside our apartment, and we have until the end of the month to straighten things up. Why wait? we decided. Together we marched out into the yard, surveyed the situation and started cleaning and throwing away.
But wait! you say. Don' t you have a five-year-old with you? Well, at breakfast he told us he didn't want to watch any Saturday morning cartoons he'd already seen before, and by the time the letter came he'd already spent an hour and a half with his mom or me moving furniture in his room and picking out all the books he didn't want to read any more. When the letter came, he ran outside, all excited to be working with us, even in the summer heat.
And he chipped in like crazy. He carried recycling with me. He wrote "FREE" signs and stuck them to things. When scrubbed the dirt off is old plastic swing-and-slide set, he hosed the dirt down.
In short, he spent the next two and a half hours working with us like a real trooper. He was just so damn enthusiastic that it was hard to get discouraged. Anyway, the plastic slide was gone within 15 minutes. A bunch of the garden tools and such came back into the house, and Salad Eater-who just needed to be prodded a bit, apparently--tore through the house and storage area, making a "donation" pile for the blind that's about 3 feet high, 2 feet wide and eight feet long. It's full of stuff that we didn't use, didn't need and didn't want. Not really.
And you know what? I had a great time. We worked together as a family, and the work we did was good.
After lunch, we got back to it, but our momentum was broken, especially for Mango Eater. He helped out still, but he was also a kid and wanted to play. The last I saw of him, he had snuck around the side of the house while Salad Eater was hosing down some gardening buckets. He turned the water on the hose all the way off, then suddenly turned it on full blast .
Salad Eater yelped from the front of the house. The boy laughed as he ran toward her. I was carrying one of the last loads of recycling into the alley when I heard her say "It's not funny!"
Then the sound of the water changed, Mango Eater's laughter changed to a very different high-pitched sound and, when I returned from the alley, I saw a line of tiny wet bare footprints leading up the side of the building and into the apartment.
It looks better now, but we're not done. And we're going to be able to do more good work this week and weekend. I'm looking forward to it.
And it really turned out to be a great day.
 No advice about housekeeping, decluttering or associated subjects, please. It wouldn't be welcome.
 Kidding. It was Seattle in August. The high for the day was right about 74F
 I wonder where the little devil learns these tricks? Heh heh heh.