In the spirit of getting organized — and I know some of you have made a New Year’s resolution to clean and purge various areas of your home — we present, in this issue, a few peeks at truly smart living.
There’s professional organizer Lauren Combs’ spice drawer in our This Season department; interior designer Marianne Jones’ ultra-cool kitchen setup, shown in the feature on her renovated home; and valuable storage tips from designer John Rattray in the story on his Dearborn clients’ home.
All of this organizing has me thinking back to a few afternoons spent helping my mother get organized. On one February day, while a light snow fell outside Mom’s dressing room window, we sat in front of her closet, among her sprawled footwear, trying to decide what should go to Goodwill, what she could still wear, what was past useful, and what could be given to Inez, a dedicated woman who had been cleaning my parents’ house weekly for several years.
The disorganized closet had begun to play heavily on my mother’s mind. You know the feeling — you can’t sleep soundly until the tax forms are filed, or you can’t board a plane and thoroughly enjoy a trip with your spouse until you’re sure someone knows who’s in charge of the kids and where the money is, in case the plane goes down.
It was getting harder and harder for my mother to focus on and enjoy everyday tasks, knowing there were closets, drawers, pantries, attics — you name it — stuffed with, well, stuff. So this was closet-cleaning day.
Those cleaning days were the worst for me, and the best. I loved to help Mom in whatever way I possibly could, but during those purging hours, my heart split and my eyes always filled with that achy, stingy, any-second-the-tears-will-fall feeling. Deciding to discard items is based on knowing that not only will you not use them anymore, but that you can’t use them anymore. During times like that, I’d always go to another level in my mind. I’d silently count, or I’d tune into a different, numbing plane, just so I wouldn’t have to think about what I was really doing. She always told me I was good at this because I was unemotional and goal-oriented. Little did she know! On those organizing days, what I was really doing was helping my mother close some chapters.
My mother picked up a few pairs of high-heeled shoes, turning them over in her hands. “I forgot I had these. Those ones I loved. Can’t wear any of those anymore,” she said. Then silence.
As I looked at the variety of shoes scattered on the floor, I thought of all my mother had done in them, and probably wouldn’t really do again, from playing tennis to gardening to dancing to even cleaning the large home’s many windows.
Shoes weren’t the only things in that closet. There were treasures to be found! Inside a little purse, we discovered a tiny box. Mom sat comfortably on a wooden bench and opened it.
I watched, but tried not to; I stayed on course, hauling garbage bags to the trash. After returning from a trip to the garage, I found her smiling, peering at tiny pins in the box. The gold and silver treasures had barely visible etchings on them like SHS (Sacred Heart School), or Outstanding Girl Award, 8th Grade. There was an RN pin, too. Now my mother was reliving her youth, here on this bench beside all these shoes and black garbage bags. As I listened, all I could think of was the fact that part of my own life was ending as fast as I tossed a shoe into a bag.
My mother’s slender feet were a size 8.5 AAA, so there was no chance that my size 8 medium-width would fit into any of the shoes that were left. But wait, something caught my eye. Inside one last box were two pairs of sandals. One was a glitzy, wide-strap gold get-up with a wedge heel. Not for me and too narrow, anyway, we decided as I slipped them on and she laughed. Feeling like Cinderella’s stepsister, I placed the sandals into the Inez pile.
Then I tried the last pair. They looked almost new. Adorned with little chips of turquoise stones, the flat silver sandals just might fit. They did! “Those look nice,” she said. “I’ll walk in your shoes!”
I replied with a laugh, fighting the tears behind my eyes.