Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Happy Story of Piles

I’ve got piles. Before you wince and discreetly pass me a tube of Preparation H®, I don’t mean piles-piles, I mean piles. Things that gather in corners and teeter and tilt like Dr Seuss creations. Papers using a vertical archival system understood only by me and that crazy old woman at the end of the road- you’ve probably got one of those, too- she’s got newspapers piled on top of newspapers, back issues dating to the point when newspapers were hand chiseled on tablets by whip-scarred slaves. She has cats slinking over her crocs® to get to food bowls which haven’t had a good scouring since, well, ever. One of those people. She’s wears some sort of gown/robe that doubles as pyjamas and clothing. If you were to slip in close, and give a sniff, you know exactly how she’d smell. An earthy mixture of potting soil with the sharp tang of newly chopped onions. Irish stew. That’s it. She’d smell like Irish stew.

I don’t smell like any sort of casserole or wear crocs or collect newspapers. I don’t have cats- not that being a cat-person prejudices you towards being domestically disadvantaged, but if I did, they’d be lost in the piles along with my birth certificate and a medal I once received for extreme bravery. Ok, the medal was essentially for attendance, but, since it doesn’t actually exist any more, that’s not too serious. The corners are stacked high with miscellaneous objects I was loathe to throw in the bin.

Last year I spoke to someone who said that your living environment is a reflection of your inner state. In which case, mine is mostly neat, but with pockets of mayhem. If someone should remove a strategically placed object or paper, the piles threaten to cascade down and carpet even the tidy bits. That happened briefly last year, but I carefully managed to throw out so many useless things that I was almost clean. Still am. It makes sense, really- half the challenge of cleaning is positioning everything so that it’s easier to maintain. And the fewer things you have to position, the better. So you designate places where it’s acceptable to have some accumulation, and keep others free.

One trick: Don’t let the stuff pile up above your head. Once you do, the potential for smothering is enormous. Keep the piles low and maneuverable, keep everything mobile, so you can shift it or get rid of it entirely if possible.

I like some clutter, though. Can’t help it, with the kids, for a start. I enjoy finding their old drawings or toys, and recalling some happy moments. I like the clutter K leaves- the feminine accoutrements which give the bathroom a homely feel- don’t get me wrong- she’s a tidy person- but there are bottles and tubes of stuff I’d never have had on my own, and it’s part of what makes me feel safe here. It would be disturbing, to me, to have the pristine minimalism of an architectural journal illustration around me instead of books gathering dust, and a couple of plates in the sink. A stray doll hiding under the couch. A lego block which makes your eyes water when you stand on it in the bathroom. Some of what makes up a home will always be mess.

It’s the lego blocks inside my head that keep me from just settling into routine- every time I step on one, it’s an awakening. A reminder that while routine can help to produce inner calm and order, a sprinkling of chaos helps to keep things slightly risky- anything could happen.

They’re my piles, and I know what’s in them. And they know what’s in me.

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