Once Upon a Coffee Table

May 7, 2018 § 3 Comments

A silent epidemic

Do you or a loved one suffer from OCS? (Overstuffed Coffee-table Syndrome)? I know I do. Research suggests that 107% of depression is directly attributable to overstuffed coffee-tables. Clearly, it’s a silent epidemic.

But there are cures in development. To that end, I wanted to share my adventure of the other day, when I didn’t just clean off the coffee table, I freaking deconstructed it. I was like a woman possessed. I’m actually kind of lucky to even have a coffee table left at this point, given the fervor with which I went after this thing.

It all began in the morning when I realized that the table had disappeared under a pile of random stuff several weeks ago, and somehow hadn’t managed to get any better despite the fact that I’d been persistently ignoring it.  We had just returned from vacation, which made the noticing all the more acute: what I had managed to not-see in busy pre-vacation weeks now seemed to be glaring like a neon sign flashing helpful questions at me:

Eve? Really?

This is okay with you?

I mean, I was just wondering if you like living like this, I mean is it a conscious style choice on your part?

Is it like shabby chic, but you know, without the chic?

So I made the decision that I was going to clean it up. And not just the old musical-chairs-trick where you put the difficult things in another room and shut the door so you’re just not looking at it anymore, but really, actually clean it up. It might take all morning— in fact, knowing me it might even take all month— but I was determined: I would do nothing else until it was a completely clean surface, damn it.

Of course, projects like this are always easy… at first. I start by picking off the low hanging fruit. Anything that belonged to an actual person in possession of a bed in our home got their belongings transferred to that location. Greta’s craft project, Greta’s knitting, Ilsa’s school supplies, all quickly departed the scene. The table went from looking like this (left), to like this (right):

Next, I rolled up and put away all the cloth napkins and dishtowels that had been sitting half done for never mind how long.

Everything was going great! In no time at all I had gone from Ugh. to Much Better, but my momentum was about to hit a wall. The reason why had to do with a realization I had come to during my Year of No Clutter which was this: there is a big difference between clutter and a mess. A mess is composed of things we know what to do with, but we just haven’t gotten around to doing yet. Clutter is composed of things we don’t quite know what to do with, or for some reason can’t quite get to happen yet. Comparatively speaking, cleaning up mess is easy (if annoying). Clearing clutter, on the other hand is damn near impossible hard.

Keeping this distinction in mind, its easy to see why I got half the table clear so quickly, and why on any given day I might get this far and then go no further (only for the table to fill right back up over the rest of the afternoon and evening, am I right, people?)

So I took an inventory of the objects that remained, and the unanswered questions that made them clutter:

  1. Box and info booklet from new camera Steve bought… are we keeping these? Where will they live?
  2. Stack of CD-less jewel cases (some broken) and case-less CDs… what does one do with stuff like this? Is it just landfill material?
  3. Two non-functioning meat thermometers… one broken and one needs a new battery. No one knows which is which.
  4. Ilsa’s broken earring (in the tiny glass bowl)…  Fixable, or garbage? No one knows.

So, like most clutter, what these items needed was a little extra time and persistence. I tackled them one at a time.

  1. When Steve came home for lunch I explained that I was writing a “blog about the coffee table” and reminded him that the new camera box had been sitting there for never mind how long. A few minutes later the information booklet was on the bookshelf and the box was in the recycling. I’m not above using internet blackmail to get things done here, people.

2. I was reminded that empty jewel cases are, in fact, reusable, so I recycled the liner notes and posted the cases as “free” on a local online marketplace. Within a few minutes I had a taker! Someone wanted my 12 empty, scratched CD cases! Hooray, no landfill! But what about the broken ones? It turns out that broken cases are recyclable, but not in curbside recycling. Instead I’d have to take them to a Best Buy, which for us is about a 45 minute drive away. All the broken plastic went into a paper bag marked “next time anyone is in Saratoga drop these at Best Buy” and put it by the door. The CDs themselves? Sadly they were garbage and garbage only- so in the bin they went.

3. After figuring out how to open the meat thermometer battery thingies (that’s a technical term) I ran out and purchased new batteries. Within minutes I had fixed one thermometer and placed the broken one in our pile of electronics recycling in the basement.

4. At last it all came down to this: one tiny little broken faux-pearl earring. Literally, this earring had been migrating around our house for at least the last year in its little glass bowl, in search of someone to make a decision about it. Every single time I looked at it I had the exact same series of thoughts:

  • I should throw that thing out. It’s not like it’s worth anything.
  • But Ilsa loves those earrings.
  • I should try to fix it.
  • I don’t think I can fix it, though.
  • Oh look! It’s time to… pick the girls up/make dinner/teach myself harmonica

Eliminating clutter: not for the faint of heart

This time, however, I did not head out in search of a harmonica. This time I got out the super glue and right there and then glued that little earring sucker right back together. But not before I managed to spear myself with the sharp little Krazy Glue pin head.

No one said clearing clutter was without peril.

Ta Da!

Now. Can I just TELL you how proud I am of that beautiful, clean coffee table surface? Not to mention how delighted Ilsa was to at last have her beloved earring back, and the fact that I no longer have to worry about giving my family horrible, multisyllabic diseases via undercooked meat. It’s really quite unreasonable, how happy that beautiful, open surface in the middle of my house makes me.

Now that I have explained how hard-won such small victories can be, perhaps those who do not suffer from OCS can glimpse an empty coffee-table from a brand-new vantage point: that of a time-honored battlefield in the war on mess and clutter.

The struggle is real.

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§ 3 Responses to Once Upon a Coffee Table

  • I, too, suffer from OCS. Ours is mostly filled with my daughter’s craft activities–buckets of markers and crayons, pads of paper, activity books, packs of cards, tubs of play-doh and slime, and various other detritus and “doo-dads” that come from having a 9 year old girl. About once a month, I’ll clear it up, keeping only essentials (paper and crayons) and haul whatever I don’t throw away up to her bedroom (also cluttered). Only to have it all reappear within a few days. It’s like dusting–what’s the point if it keeps coming back? But the clutter drives me mad. I’ve learned to live with some clutter, but I often find myself dreaming of my own feng-shui apartment–you know, with clean lines and minimalist furniture, a candle here, a vase of flowers there. Heaven! But I suspect it’s only a fantasy. Life is cluttered with all our “stuff”. Thanks for reminding me I’m not the only one fighting against this tidal wave.

    • Yes! I find myself reminding my husband Steve on a somewhat regular basis that the problem is that “we actually LIVE HERE.” How to make a beautiful home compatible with also being a livable home is the never-ending question.

      And because I am so not-very-good at this myself I feel compelled to offer ideas on your coffee-table conundrum: because it sounds like much of the issue is arts and crafts oriented (I am very sympathetic on this count) how about a pretty basket or a small trunk of some sort that lives next-to or nearby the coffee table that could be a portable home for all the creativity supplies when not in use?

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