De-cluttering & Repurposing

Part of the appeal of selling Providence, beyond the opportunity to practice relaxing my clinging muscles, was the fact that all our stuff would be in one place. Which seemed like an excellent idea at the time. The reality? We now know, clearly and unequivocally, that we have too much stuff.

On the brighter side, we have gotten rid of a lot of stuff.


The issue I have with Marie Kondo? She has a shopping disorder. How can one consistently get rid of four large garbage bags of clothing? And do it again three months later? Carl and I have the opposite problem. We still have T-shirts we have worn for twenty years. We like the holes and stains. Why would we get rid of a perfectly good work shirt? We need to keep it. How dare we let it go?

Enter The Organizer of All Organizers: Susan P.

We hired her to help us de-clutter and organize the chaos we created in May when we staged the Providence house, and again in late August and early September, when we did the final haul, ending up with an overwhelming amount of stuff at Darwin’s View. We needed help. At least, I did. I don’t work in clutter. I shut down . . . then note that Carl is quite cheerful when surrounded by piles of papers. He can even pay bills without twitching! Not I!

We both knew this about the other but working with Susan P. opened our eyes to a deeper understanding. Until that week with her–actually, it was only three days but it felt like a week and i’s a small miracle we survived to tell about it–Carl had been relatively unfazed by my comments about his stuff cluttering the basement and garage. Admittedly, over the years, he had gotten a bit defensive about it but who wouldn’t be, if someone–me–keeps nudging and commenting about all that junk that Carl defined as items that could be significant, and possibly useful, at some future time. And he never mentioned how much it bothered him, my tendency to start a project and not finish it because I was so enamored with the next project. Susan P. put us and our kitchen under a glaring light and penetrating microscope.

We hired her on only for the kitchen and the basement pantry. Carl and I figured it would take a day, not three. But day one, we got through six feet of the kitchen counter. Even Susan commented how slowly things were going. But every object had to be scrutinized and debated by us. Example: Susan would pick up a rubber band.

“Can we agree to throw this out?”

“No,” Carl would say and remove the rubber band from her grasp. He would shove it into his pocket. She would frown.

“Carl, take that out of your pocket. It’s fine to keep it. (Sic) We only need to find a place to store it.”

That would result in a conversation that would lead to the guest room/home office room where all our recycling had collected. Carl planned to make a recycling center but it hadn’t quite made it to fruition. He had a drawing done. And a partial cupboard built. And lots of stuff to recycle. But nothing had a place and everything in its place. It meant for an overwhelming amount of eye clutter. I had entirely given up on anything to do with recycling. We kept the office door shut. Susan P. opened it, winced, found a plastic container to put the rubber band into. She picked up a salt shaker.

“You have three salt shakers that I can see. Have you anymore?” We shook our head. Miraculously, we agreed to get rid of one. But she countered by saying it might be nice to have it outside on the deck. We pointed out it would blow away the next time the wind picked up. We agreed to disagree and watched as she placed the salt shaker outside on the deck, both Carl and I muttering we’d bring it in that night. Spatulas and knives. Carl offered to make a drawer to contain the spatulas. And another for the knives. At which point, Susan P. commented on how everything was a potential new project for Carl. That maybe we needed to settle for less than perfection. Meantime, she created a “Carl’s future project paper bag.

Etcetera. By the end of the day, our brains were fried, our bodies drained, our moods grumpy.

Day two, Susan P. noted that Carl, as did she herself, has hoarder tendencies. That we can’t save everything. That, at a certain point, we had to throw something out. Carl looked panicked and pained. To give him breathing room, she set her sights on me. I, apparently, am a compulsive starter of projects and my failure to finish them drives Carl . . . batty.

I denied such an insult. . . until Carl confirmed that it did bother him, all those piles of clothes to be sorted, cupboards emptied and left to tidy themselves, dirty dishes in the sink that I will get to but he gets to them first and it’s practically unfair, how he does all the dishes before I can do them!

We are both perfectionists. We just exhibit things differently.

Three days of hell and we didn’t make it to the pantry. We threw out stuff, gave away stuff, organized stuff. We still have too much stuff and on occasion miss what we gave away: the filter for the old lemon squeezer. The teapot that we finally found the sieve for. Gone. But we learned how to organize and set up systems and, at times, when still faced by too much, I think wistfully of Susan P. Sometimes it helps to have that objective third person to direct us toward simplification and elimination.

A Providence friend looked around our New Hampshire house this past weekend. She ambivalently noted that we had managed to fit in all our stuff.

She has no idea how much we let go of.

She has no idea what’s still in the garage.


Carl and I were exhausted by the de-cluttering and organizing process. We wanted to get on with our new, New Hampshire-centered life. And what better way to do that then to address the chicken coop situation? Chicken Paradise is disheveled. The plastic that protects the runs is ripped apart. The chicken wire is recoiling from the wooden doors. The wood is warping. And there sits the glass Bus Stop Greenhouse in the middle of the field. One plus one equals two and as we watched the dust from Susan P.’s car settle back onto the drive, it was time to build the Bus Stop Chicken Coop.

First we had to move it.

With that process checked off our To Do list, Carl spent the next week, on and off, drawing a plan for the coop that he would build inside the bus stop. Talk about wind protection! But every day, he pecked and poked, and every day, the situation felt wrong. His heart rebelled because he did not want to build a coop, only to have us determine, as we have too often in the past, that it’s not quite right. He knows how we are! He has built a battalion of coops: The Providence Hut. The Hurricane Sandy Emergency Coop. The Hay Chalet. The Chicken Palace. The Nursery. Chicken Paradise. The Road Chick Quonset Hut Coop. And various tweaks in between because every year we have to re-winterize the coop and its runs. That requires determining whether to protect the runs with ninety hay bales or wrap them with plastic. And always, it takes a full day to implement. Sometimes two. And so the very idea of spending yet more money and more time building a chicken coop? Carl didn’t like acting the part of Sisyphus.

He came up to my office and presented his dilemma. I joined him outside in the Bus Stop. The sun shone in through the thick glass. The wood foundation he had built and now sat on, proved the durability of anything we determined he would build. We went around in the circles we had circled before. Coop size. With or without doors. Predator proofing.

And maybe we should just keep the chickens where they are because they were getting a bit insistent about where our boundaries and theirs might meet, and what if we don’t like having the chickens quite so close to the house next spring? But then we remembered the uptick in drafts in the current coop. The distance of that coop from the house and the upcoming winter. Given the fifty inches of rain in Texas and the hurricanes down south, were we in for a brutally ice-y and snowy winter and shoveling the chickens out? Much easier if they are five feet away. Near is good in winter. And so back into the bus stop we went, contemplating all the wood and insulation we would have to buy, the radiant heat tubing for the floors. (Kidding!)

And then ba-da-bing! Lightning struck. I looked at the nearly defeated Carl and reminded him: REUSE! RECYCLE! REPURPOSE! Carl’s resistance to Susan P.’s lessons rose up refreshed and refurbished. Rather that buy new stuff, use the old! We would bring over the quonset hut and attach it to the bus stop. Somehow. Carl would figure it out. And what about the Providence Hut, I asked! The girls love it. It’s in the hut that the young pullets have been laying their little eggies (as we found out when we went to move it. Seven precious, wee eggs.) And maybe, just maybe, we could somehow use the old generator cover.

Carl’s mood dramatically improved, his sense of purpose returned. We dragged all the above over to the bus stop and soon enough the girls came over to join us. They hopped into the Hut as we shoved it around. Jumped into the Quonset Hut, clucking and cooing. Eventually . . . they approved. They really approved. They like this idea so much, we can hardly keep them out of the coops for long enough to reconstruct them into their new home.

It was that easy.

Would we could do the same for the sixty-three million homeless people in the world. Or is it one hundred million?

We are the fortunate ones. So are our chickens. But is gratitude enough? There must be something more to balance the grotesque evil with the gracious beauty of every day.