| LifeTakes |

Clean Sweep

Somehow, despite the toys I toss and the garbage bags I fill, The Stuff has acquired a sentience of its own

"That’s one small box for the house, one giant bag for the gemach,” said Neil Armstrong when he finally finished organizing the last of his kids’ closets.

I jest, of course; the sentence above was an obvious witticism (industry shorthand for what we in the journalism biz know as a “bald-faced lie”). No one has ever finished organizing the last of their kids’ closets. History books are replete with people whose last words were, “Wait, does anyone still wear this shirt?”

No sooner have you finally given that bag to the gemach — finally! — and sealed that last box of Girls’ Winter Tops Size 4-6 than will you find nestled in Yanky’s drawer, next to his Shabbos shirts but under his old spinner collection, that size 2 summer Shabbos dress that Shira hasn’t worn since she was a toddler. (Shira, of course, got her learner’s permit last week.)

No sooner have you finally counted all the tights and thrown out all the ripped pants than a freak heat wave comes and you need to find all the short-sleeved shirts again, and somehow, Mendy’s don’t fit him even though he wore them just last week. Whenever one door — er, drawer — closes, another opens, and you can’t even close it back, because it’s bulging with clothing that no one has ever worn.

“How can this be?” you may well ask, “I gave all the boys’ Shabbos vests to Tanta Dina in March! And I threw out the sticker albums last week!”

But listen closely, my friend, for I am here to tell you the secret. Now, hiring a personal organizer will cost hundreds of dollars, your cleaning lady probably bills $14 an hour, and even Marie Kondo’s book will run you $12.05 on Amazon, but my help will cost you just $7.99, a discount for Family First readers only. (Please send your payments to Bracha Stein, c/o Mishpacha’s office, labeled — for administrative purposes — DENTAL RECORDS, VERY BORING, DO NOT OPEN!)

Here’s the secret: Your belongings are alive. Yes, alive. No, not metaphorically, in that they power your house or spark your joy, or whatever. I don’t have time for flowery metaphors, I need to organize the coat closet, remember? I mean alive alive, biologically alive, as in able to move, perform photosynthesis, respond to stimuli, reproduce.

That last part is key here. I live in a small apartment, so over the years I’ve become fairly ruthless in my treatment of the assorted baubles that children tend to accumulate like moss on a rock. That faded sweater? Out. Last week’s parshah sheet? Out. That two-shekel prize flashlight keychain that worked for exactly eleven minutes? Sixteen random puzzle pieces? Art projects? Out, out, out. (My mother taught me that cleaning up at night is a mother’s best secret. Also, black garbage bags.)

Yet somehow, despite the toys I toss and the garbage bags I fill, The Stuff has acquired a sentience of its own. I open the junk drawer and at least four broken keychain flashlights glare at me defiantly; on the dining room table, six parshah sheets smirk. In the playroom, at least 34 random puzzle pieces gallivant about with pride, and there are three pairs of ripped tights in the sock drawer.

They’re multiplying, growing faster than I can sweep or sort or chuck. We’re at war — and the victor is evident.

It’s a never-ending skirmish, day after day after day, and you should probably start buying garbage bags in bulk. But when the battle begins to wear you down, when you’re ready to throw up your hands in despair, to surrender to the clutter, cast your mind to that distant future, to that far-off unimaginable day when the kids are grown, off to yeshivah, to seminary, married with kids of their own. Your own home will be oh-so empty, and you’ll pick up the phone to call them, to beg, to plead: Will you PLEASE come take your stuff out of your room already?Because no one has ever finished organizing the last of their kids’ closets.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 713)

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