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coming out of the closet
no, not that one, the other one
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

This is a public service announcement to everyone who owns a home, rents some sort of abode, or still shuttles back and forth between college roommate/ex-rompfriend/“that dude Jack knows” places.

Clean out yer stuff.

You may not know it, but you have way too much of it. And having too much stuff will, most certainly, get in the way of any other stuff you may want to get.

Recall the wise words of George Carlin: "That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore."

I’m in the middle of home renovations. Not the “we’re going to rip out this wall while Norm rebuilds the entire kitchen with serrated cardboard, some Monkey Chow and Silly Putty” type of renovations, but still enough chaos to cause the removal of the entire contents of the household…only to reassemble it in some representation of order four days later.

Like moving, only without the nine friends, the keg of beer and the sacrifical lighting of the lime shag carpeting in the old place to complete the process.

Yet this is exactly the type of situation that facilitates the harsh florescent examination of one’s life, the flotsam and jetsam of years past. I don’t need a feng shui expert to crystal scan for clutter: after seven and a half years, the longest I’ve ever lived in one housing unit in my life, I have stuff propping up stuff stacked against other stuff piled high on top of stuff. Neatly, but, you know, still there. There are five closets packed with the stuff of two people.

And people keep giving me stuff. How can you say no to a gift of stuff? Someone has thought of you enough to give you this, this, stuff! But I don’t want any more stuff. Give me an island getaway or a gift certificate for a book.


Take your pick.

But no one takes me seriously, and thus, I get more stuff. Some stuff I don’t even understand. As much as I like knickknacks and pattywhacks, I long for the peace and tranquility of a living room composed of four linen floor cushions, a teak coffee table and a lone orchid.

It would sure make dusting a lot easier.

Do you collect stuff? See, I don’t really collect stuff. I like books and music for the obvious reasons, but otherwise, no. Oh, I like things, like hatboxes, but lo! There are hats in them! I have a lot of plants, but they’re, you know, living things, so it’s almost like having a cat or dog without the constant feeding. Once a month with the plant food, tops. I love working with art glass, and have all the supplies, but only have one piece I’ve made: the rest I’ve given away.

So what the hell is in the five closets????

A typewriter from 1960. Fabric from curtains I haven’t even had in this house. A flapper outfit. 13 pillows of all shapes and sizes. Bags. Costume jewelry from some aunt. Cigar boxes, and we don’t smoke. An old shower hose. Doo-dads I’ve picked up, thinking I’ll give them to people. (Ha! A switch-up on the giving of stuff!) An afghan that’s never been out of a trunk. A trunk, filled with stuff I haven’t seen since I put it all in there. An old bike helmet. Seven Carnival Cruise Lines document holders. A four-gallon container of lemonade. Shoes a half-size too small. More bags. Papers from a home decorating course. Slips of recipes from collected from 1994, in no particular order. Citronella candles. Old phone books from four different cities. Assorted toys for children of various ages, and we don’t have children. A cast-iron iron. Half-painted wine glasses. A fedora. A box filled with at least 50 national and international maps.

I mock my husband for having bowling trophies. Okay, yeah, sure. You won at bowling, so you have bowling trophies. Fine.

But trophies he won when he was ELEVEN? Sweet Betty, no!

So he mocks me for my stacks and notebooks and piles and folders of paper. Clippings, slips, and scraps, oh my! They’re everywhere. I’m John Nash with breasts.

I can’t get rid of my clippings, slips and scraps! They inspire me!

“So do my bowling trophies.”

Now you might say, “Hey! Stuff like this comes in handy, especially at Halloween!” or “You’re very sentimental!” or “That’s so dumb – throw that crap out!”

Yep. All valid opinions.

In my wanderlust, I had only wicker furniture I could pick up myself. I once moved halfway across America with almost all of my belongings in a Toyota Starlet hatchback, and that included the cat and its litter box. I spent less time housecleaning, and even less time pondering the contents of my closets. Yet I still dreamed of the day when I had a home of my own, where I could throw stuff into the dark recesses and no one would tell me to clean up.

Now, I am weary.

How does one cure this affliction of/for stuff?

Tough love, baby.

Ya just gotta get rid of it. The design show gurus line up plastic bins labeled “Mend” “Discard” and “Donate”, then lay the offender bare-bottomed across the bed, spank them with a llama wool duster and bark, “Choose! Choose!”

I now know that is the only way. Beginning December 1st, I embark on my own 30-day rehab program. I’m sure someone will benefit from my FRANKIE SAYS RELAX t-shirt and pink neon suspenders. I know there’s a person who will be thankful for my 15 assorted magnetic notepads, especially the six collector’s edition “Farm Bureau Orlando Convention 2000!” series.

You know, this isn’t just about my closet. Or even yours.

Just imagine what your parents still have in theirs! Be kind this holiday season, and give them the gift of a packing box and three hours of your time to rid them of all the stuff they’ve been holding on for you! Stuff you couldn’t bear to part with when you were 16, and now that you’re 29, you feel secure knowing it’s still there. Jake Smyser’s benediction of “love ya always and forever” in macaroni on lavender construction paper. A guitar pick that Slash flicked to you, personally. All of your “poetry” from the third grade. A game controller for Nintendo 64. A half-finished Battlestar Galactica model. Headless Grunge Barbie. The concert stub to the high school Battle of the Bands. Three tubes of Bonnie Bell lip gloss.

Take it home. Put it with your other stuff. Then repeat after me:

Floor cushions.
Teak table.
Lone orchid.

I feel brave now, sure.

But I swear I just heard a faint cackle coming from the bathroom cabinets and kitchen drawers.


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley


whimper, not a scream
the year visited
by tracey l. kelley
topic: humor
published: 12.28.09

it’s not easy being green
the honorable task of supporting the environment
by tracey l. kelley
topic: humor
published: 7.28.08


russ carr
11.29.04 @ 12:17a

Next October, lash the bowling trophies to your person with heavy twine. Wear a veil. Voila! Trophy wife!

tracey kelley
11.29.04 @ 10:13a

That's marvelous.

stacy smith
11.29.04 @ 10:52a

George Carlin is "The Man" in my book.

Now as for your clutter. You are making me break out in clutterphobia hives. Well okay, the hives may be from may cats fur or from the dust I've been cleaning, but it sounds good. LOL

I'm not a fan of clutter. I have days when if things are not nailed down, they often get pitched only for me to search high and low for them later on.

I do have a growing collection of books, however they are in bookcases. I'm not a collector of knick-knack things for the reason you mention...they are huge dust collectors.

I won't allow my son to become a "pack rat" either as much as he argues. His toys are cleaned out atleast 3 times a year. What he doesn't play with are donated as are the clothes he has outgrown but are still in good shape for another child to make use of.

Household "clutter" goes out to the curb to anybody that wants to take it. I've gotten rid of more furniture this way as I don't "do" yard sales. To save a bunch of crap, only to try and sell it seems like a huge waste of time to me. If I need the few bucks that bad, I'll go and donate blood.

The latest curbside item was an air conditioner. It worked, however it was a energy hog, so we opted to get of it. Good luck to the person that took it. I hope they like the electric company as they'll certainly be loving them for using it.

Good luck with your clutter rehab! Remember,if you haven't touched in a year (holiday decorations are the exception)odds are you won't.

juli mccarthy
11.29.04 @ 10:54a

Way to lay on the guilt, Tracey. We've lived here five years and have emptied the in-laws' house into ours. I'm totally out of space and have been indulging my inner ostrich about it. Sigh. I suppose I ought to do something about it, huh?

sloan bayles
11.29.04 @ 11:18a

I started to twitch just reading this...

sarah ficke
11.29.04 @ 11:51a

I'm twitching too. I'm more of a pack rat than anyone in my family, although to make myself feel better, I call myself a "historian". Of crap.

sloan bayles
11.29.04 @ 12:14p

I like that, "Historian of Crap".

jael mchenry
11.29.04 @ 12:30p

Jonathan and I spent two days getting rid of books, papers, and other things cluttering the cabinets and closets.

We disposed of four boxes of books, yet the shelves are all still completely full.


sarah ficke
11.29.04 @ 12:45p

See, I can't get rid of books unless they really really suck. It's physically impossible.

juli mccarthy
11.29.04 @ 12:53p

I can't get rid of anything. I'm destined to be an old lady with a lot of cats and a hoarde of saved tinfoil.

sloan bayles
11.29.04 @ 1:13p

I've always been a pack rat. Always will be. I blame sentimentality.

joe procopio
11.29.04 @ 3:01p

eBay. Seriously.

juli mccarthy
11.29.04 @ 3:12p

I know, Joe. I'm a Power Seller (woo-hoo) but I gotta tell you, sometimes it's just as much a pain in the ass as having all the stuff in the first place. Figuring out postage alone is enough to make me tear out my hair. If it's going to be worth your while, you kinda have to do a lot of it - I do, but it's very nearly a JOB.

robert melos
11.29.04 @ 3:36p

I've learned to embrace the clutter and love it.

juli mccarthy
11.29.04 @ 3:45p

Nice try, Cleopatra.

lucy lediaev
11.29.04 @ 7:35p

Two cures for the junk collecting syndrome:

1) Ride out a huge earthquake with all of your worldly possessions crashing around you. Be grateful for your life and detach from STUFF! I don't think I've bought anything breakable since the Northridge earthquake a dozen years ago.

2) Spend several days sorting, re-allocating (hooray for numerous grandchildren who wanted stuff), and tossing the items your parents have collected during 55 years of maintaining a household. Swear that you will never put YOUR children through the same exercise!

tracey kelley
11.30.04 @ 1:43a

I have a stack of magazines - mostly read, but there are a few "I don't have the brain for this right now" Smithsonian's in there - that is at least 3 feet tall. I have flagged pages of recipes, tips on things, writing ideas...

...now how am I going to just toss those out? I've saved them for a reason,, for, like, two years. I can't imagine just tossing them!

But they gotta go. If I can commit to at least saving the flagged pages, that should reduce the pile, right?


See, this is what I go through.

I was disappointed the last time I took some books to Half Price to sell. I had about 15-20 books, and think I netted $2.00 total! I'd rather give them to the women's shelter next time, and write them off for $2.00 a piece.

I don't think anyone on eBay wants my crap.

ETA for Stacy's benefit: My house is clean, my clutter, well-hidden. But like any bad habit, I know I have it. Does that calm your hives? ;)


stacy smith
11.30.04 @ 10:21a

Indeed! LOL

I was conjuring up images from that show Mission Organization. Just watching that show bothers me.

I don't know how people actually live like that. Well that's not true because my SIL lives that way. She has little paths she makes amongst the ceiling high piles of stuff.

It was scary living with her for a year. Not for me, but for my cats. I never let them go in her room because I feared that if they viewed the piles as a challenge, I'd never see them again.

Then there was the foul smelling piles of laundry and dishes with mold growing on them...Blech!

Not saying that you'd do any of this. This was just my unfortunate experience with a very troubled pack rat.

Between that traumatic experience and being allergic to just about everything in my house, it makes it really easy not to keep any clutter around.

Even books are dust collectors though. Speaking of which, if you donate them to the library, you can get a tax write off that way too. We never claim it, but they do offer it. I'm always happy just to clean them out to make room for more books.

I'll be thinking of you tomorrow. =)

jason gilmore
11.30.04 @ 8:51p

I can't believe you still have a "Frankie says Relax" t-shirt.

At least you've got a house that's cluttered with junk. My wife and I have an apartment that's heavily cluttered. We don't allow guests anywhere near our bedroom. You might mess around and twist your ankle just trying to get to the computer, let alone the bed.

It's sad. And don't get me started on our books...

juli mccarthy
11.30.04 @ 8:55p

With me, it's the craft stuff. I have a whole room full of it. And once upon a time (actually, twice upon a time) it was organized so beautifully it woulda made you weep. Now it's kind of a large closet you have to wade through. I'd love to get in there and play with the silk-painting stuff, but I'm too scared.

tracey kelley
12.1.04 @ 12:25a

See, now, books to me aren't clutter. One of the defining accents of Jael's place, for example, are the beautiful bookshelves stacked with books. I love that.

Jason, you've obviously overgrown your space, and need to go into massive home debt! Advance, young man, and multiply equity!

Since we're painting and recarpeting 75% of the house, and doing minor updates to the kitchen, I've been trying to research homes from the 50s and early 60s to get some design ideas. We have have a '59 California ranch, and while I don't want a lime green sofa, I love the sleek, clean look from that time period, so I'm trying to keep that mindset while I work with what I have. That's another reason why the clutter has to go: it just won't fit with the new style I'm trying to bring forth. So if I have to sacrifice it, so be it.

Stac, you're so funny. No, I'm a good housekeeper. I just think I 'need' things I probably could scan, put to use, or just throw away. What I 'need' is to improve my organizational skills.

juli mccarthy
12.1.04 @ 12:58a

I have the opposite house - it's a ranch, but it's a mid-70s disaster architecturally - Brady Bunch outside with a heavy Mediterranean influence inside. And my general taste is 1930s-1950s.

stacy smith
12.1.04 @ 1:27p

Well here is some of things I've done or use to keep things in order. Feel free to use whatever tickles your fancy.

For household things like nuts, bolts, screws, tacks, ect... I use an organizer box. They can be found at any hardware store, Lowes or Home Depot. Mine has 18 compartments in it. Each compartment holds 1 kind of thing. 1 has tacks, another has small nails, ect.

I like to make candles (when my allergies tolerate it) so I put all my frangrance oils in a tool box. The removable tray on top holds pencils, tape, and other misc things that normally would be lost in a junk drawer or elsewhere.

In the spring, I repainted my bathroom closet. The former owner of the house had 3 children. I think one or two of them liked to pee in the closet, so it stank like urine which made anything I put in there smell like urine. YUCK!

Anyway, once I was done painting, I bought a bunch of baskets and lined them up in the shelves. One has towels, one has medicines in it which is kept out my son's reach, another holds spare rolls toilet paper, another is home to my iron and a few other things. For all other bathroom things that needn't be "displayed" I put that stuff in small totes and stacked them.

My bedroom was starting to be taken over by books and things that I don't use all the time. While neatly stacked and put away on a small bookcase, cleaning them was driving me crazy. So I went to Staples and bought some decorative boxes that I had to put together. They are really cheap, and a cinch to put together as they have snaps.

Under my bathroom sink, I have a tote that has just pet stuff in it. Combs, brushes, muzzles, Quik-stop, nail clippers, and a few pet first aid kind of things.

I like to do all kinds of Photoshop tutorials. The ones that I like, I print out. I tried one of those paper organizer things, but it eventually split apart because I had too many stuffed in there. So again, I went back to Staples and bought a plastic file organizer. It holds all my tutorials, but the top has has compartments for loose do-dads that may need a home.

Hubby likes to come home and empty his pockets. While this is all fine and well, he was forever losing his keys and wallet, which meant having to listen to him snarl first thing every morning. I got sick of that, and gave him a backet. It has since grown because he tosses other stuff in there as well, but it keeps his keys and wallet in one place.

I never have a problem with mail, as I go through it all daily. Junk mail gets pitched. Credit card applications and such get burned in the fire pot. Bills are paid within a few days of recieving them. The part that doesn't get sent are filed for a year, except bank statements which I keep. At the end of the year, I clean everything out and burn those.

Hubby is also a magazine collector. A PS2 magazine collector to be exact. Instead of having piles of PS2 magazine laying aroun

stacy smith
12.1.04 @ 1:37p


I gave him a basket for all his magazines. When the basket gets too full, I make him clean it out and put them either in his closet, or up in the attic.

Next time you go to Lowes or Home Depot, poke around for awhile and see what you can find. It may not be pretty, but if you are just going to have stuff put away, it needn't always be pretty.

Craft stores/ chain stores usually charge too much for a simple tool box or organizer kind of box. I think I paid $5.00 for mine, and they wanted close to $15.00 for the same exact thing at a craft store.

Linens & Things sometimes have some nifty ideas, however be careful and watch their prices. Usually you can find the same thing elsewhere for considerably cheaper money.

My biggest problem at the moment is taming computer cds. I have them in a dresser drawer, in totes on a book case, and a few on the computer desk. That will be tackled this evening as it nobody uses a majority of them anyway.

Then there is the paper mess on my desk, but I'm using the excuse that I'm putting my website back together, hence the explosion of recipes can just stay put until I'm done. LOL

tracey kelley
12.2.04 @ 5:07p

Okay, Stac, you're freakin' me out here. :)

I'm happy to report that yesterday, I organized two desk drawers and one kitchen junk drawer. Why not closets, you ask? 'Cause I have to have more than two hours to do that, and will start closets Monday.

Today, I started on the area in the utility room around my craft table so that 1) I can wrap Christmas gifts and 2) I can finish a gift I started back in June for a friend. The entire utility room needs an overhaul, as it is the dumping ground for many things (and fortunately, it's pretty big, but it does get cluttered), but if I can just get the area around the craft table done, I'll have accomplished three tasks in the next week.

sarah ficke
12.2.04 @ 10:21p

I collected my scattered books in neat stacks today. Baby steps...

tracey kelley
12.14.04 @ 5:48p

Brava, darling.

Guest Bedroom One, otherwise known as the "kids room", has been nicely converted to Matt's* Guitar Room. It's more grown up than the kids room used to be, but still has a young man feel to it, what with all Matt's guitars and models and what have you.

Except for the plant I stuck in the corner.

It's been thoroughly cleaned, repainted, rearranged and slightly redecorated.

Cleaned out the closet in this room, and the shelves throughout the room, and overall, believe it or not, we have two FULL boxes of various things being given to Matt's mom, Goodwill, and Walker.

Two FULL boxes. Not even clothes. But scraps of material, books, toys, games, pillows (yes, some of the assorted pillows), an old electronic keyboard (with the hopes of getting a new one made in this century), and a vacuum. I also got rid of some bags, which as anyone knows, is a huge deal for me.

Walker gets marionettes.

I was also quite delighted to get a couple of storage bins to organize all my travel paraphenalia, which cuts my packing time in half, I'm bettin'.

Tonight, I finish with all the Christmasy stuff (wrapping, prepare for shipping), and tomorrow will start prepping the master bath for a change in floor tile, repainting, and repairing the shower, all of which should be done this weekend.

We also just spent a gazillion dollars on carpeting today, so I guess we're committed to the rest of it.

I feel cleansed and terrified at the same time.
It's almost like getting a new house.


daniel givin
12.14.04 @ 6:31p

If we declared a ten year moratorium on producing any new stuff, other than perishable necessities, I wonder if we would still be buried in stuff. Of course this would ruin the economy. Maybe if we just developed a direct pipeline from the manufacturing plants in China, to our municipal landfills. I guess that would still cost us a lot of jobs. Maybe we could all share the job as middle people between manufacture and dumping. Wait a minute, that is kind of what we all do. We are all trash brokers. Hmmm!

tracey kelley
12.14.04 @ 9:19p

I plan on cutting out stuff and traveling more.

I'm not joking about this.

daniel givin
12.15.04 @ 10:33a

I wish you success in your quest. You will be a pioneer for a better tomorrow.

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