For many years, whenever I didn't want to do whatever it was I had to do, I'd consult The List. Often it was an actual, written List, and sometimes just a long scrolling one in my head. I'd count the items, and figure out how crossing out some would organize my life--and by definition, solve all my problems—and also become a wonderful—logical!excuse for procrastinating. The List was mainly filled with things that needed weeding out: Boxes of old clothes. Pre-internet-era photos screaming to be in albums. Almost definitely viable art supplies dating back to the 80s. This stuff required careful examination before I could decide whether to discard it, or give it away to a worthy recipient. Then and only then would the earth balance on its axis.
I did not actually possess a whole lot of stuff. I was an average keeper of things, fairly neat. I made my bed every day. But I always yearned for the apartment version of In-box Zero.
As they say, be careful of what you ask for: you may get it. In Dec. 2015, I was gifted with bedbugs by my upper middle-class next-door neighbor in my lovely, upper middle-class building. She didn't mean to do it. OK, that's too kind: she didn't care, either way. Her only goal was to banish them, in shameful secrecy, from her own apartment, which drove them screaming through the walls to their next victims: me, and the neighbors above and below me. The bugs liked us better than her, and fought with their cold, little hearts to remain as long as possible.
Maybe one day I'll write a book about this, or a whole bunch of blog posts. Dorothy Parker's famous words (upon hearing her doorbell ring),"What fresh hell is this?", will summarize, for now, how I felt upon waking up each morning in my furniture-less bedroom in, successively, a sleeping bag surrounded by a moat of Vaseline; an Amazon rainforest-quality tent; and finally, curled up on a piano bench, wondering how my lovely middle-class life had come to such decrepitude. Finally, after three months of exhausting the talents of four exterminators and a beagle named Sophie, my building and I were bug-free
During this process, I also had to inspect every single item I owned. Everything: each piece of paper, sock, earring, pillow, book, photo. (Not the stuff in my kitchen, thank goodness; that was the sanctuary where I camped out amidst piles of clothing.) Remaining possessions were quarantined in plastic bags with horribly toxic bug strips, and then inspected again in an alley behind my building, just in case. I thought of the aria from Handel's "Messiah": "For He is like a refiner's fire." What remained, at the end, was what counted. I've now retired The List, since I no longer have anything to organize. There isn't enough left.
I still have plenty, though. More than enough. This state of essential spareness feels good. Maybe one day I'll thank God for the lesson. I'm not quite at that stage.