It was January of last year that I first broached the topic of “decluttering.” Although I made no promise or resolution to actually declutter, it has occurred to me that I am on the verge of having wasted a perfectly good pandemic by not having spent the last year of isolation decluttering my life and environs.
First of all, I’ve drawn this conclusion because I really have nothing better to do than sit around thinking about the most inconsequential of matters, which this surely is. Alienation from a normal life shared with others leads to random and disconnected thoughts, frequently fantastical and mostly dumb. Under normal circumstances, this activity would be considered a monumental waste of time. But these are far from normal circumstances. So be it.
Let’s start with the word “decluttered” and its active verb form, “decluttering.” I’ve addressed this issue before, but I think it bears repeating. While one can certainly live a cluttered life—from piles of unsorted papers and books upon desks and nightstands, to a head filled with confusion—how does one live a decluttered life?
The implication, of course, is that a decluttered life describes a life that was once cluttered and is no longer due to active efforts to rid stuff by the person with those random piles of stuff.
Decluttering, I don’t believe, is even a legitimate word, despite its having been in limited (until now) use since 1950. That one’s life becomes cluttered is probably not an aspiration by the clutteree…it just happens. Nobody answers a question about today’s activity by saying, “Oh, just cluttering up my life—one room at a time.”
There was a time when one cleaned up and threw out stuff or gave it away. To some, decluttering might make the task more significant or important than mere cleaning, much along the lines of that moment when janitors became custodial engineers. Think how those in mid-career must have felt when their new titles became a replacement for what had become a perceived inferior standing in both society and the workforce.
(I had a friend who had an after-school job working as a petroleum transfer engineer. He pumped gas at a Texaco station in Van Nuys, California.)
This has taken on newer political correctness in that house-keeping services in hospitals are now called environmental services, which is pretty lofty in tone and implies something, perhaps, about climate change and the Paris Accords and less about waxy buildup on the floors.
And while we’re on the subject of hospitals, why is the Emergency Room now the Emergency Department? Granted, while there are more than one exam or treatment rooms in most hospitals, the ED sounds lame compared to the ER. Really, would anybody have watched even one of the 331 episodes of the NBC prime time drama that ran between 1994 and 2009 had it been called “ED”? Might as well just put a Mr. in front of it and make it a sitcom about a talking horse.
Or, could it have survived as a drama about Erectile Dysfunction for 19 seasons?
I’d also like to know what a “hospitalist” is. The word first appeared two years after the premiere of “ER” and it refers to a doctor who sees patients whose hospital confinements are longer than their regular doctor’s shifts. Another made-up word, there is already of society of hospitalists, a web site, and a blog detailing the adventures of hospitalists.
I’ve spent many weeks in hospitals over the past few years. I was visited by innumerable doctors, none of whom introduced themselves as hospitalists. And there was a Jamaican woman who had held her ex-husband at gunpoint until he cleared out of their Brooklyn apartment after she discovered his having had an affair. She had a definite voodoo quality and she called herself a “maid” as she swept beneath my bed and sang beautiful songs in a foreign tongue. (Actually, the songs might have been about rodents and rabid bats, but since I didn’t the understand the language their melodies sounded beautiful.)
But I digress.
I saw a New Yorker cartoon not so long that had two men staring at an open garage packed with stuff. “Someday, son, this will all be yours.”
We have two storage bins—one that is 10’ x 20’; the other, 12-foot-square. The rent alone is a monumental waste of money. We have only vague notions of what could possibly be stored in those places that we rarely visit. The reason we don’t go to visit our stored belongings is because we don’t need any of them.
Part of our cache is about 3,000 jazz LPs. The irony is that we don’t have a record player.
I know we have a windsurfing board that somebody gave us. I don’t know why we accepted it as a gift since we gave up windsurfing as a family just before moving to Montana. But I’d be happy to re-gift it.
We have a wicker bassinette and multiple cartons of infant wear. We’ve not had an infant in the house for more than 30 years, and it’s highly unlikely for there to be any time soon. I believe there are also several beds and frames, boxes of kitchenware and dishes for the cabin we’ll never have, remnants of drum sets, and a marimba.
And that’s probably just the half of it.
The smaller unit houses the remains of our restaurant, including 12 bar stools. Belly up!
With each passing day I am more and more tempted to do something useful—like getting rid of stuff. There’s a six-foot-long shelf with every classroom assignment our two kids ever completed from kindergarten to high school graduation. Since neither of them wants the stuff, I’ve been eyeing that shelf of filed papers and construction paper handicrafts with the idea of depositing it all in the trash.
I hope I can get it done before the next pandemic.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
Pasta with Ham, Asparagus and Cream
I’ve been making this bowl of comfort long before ever reading the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, the undisputed bible of Italian cuisine. It works with boiled ham or smoked, whichever is your preference, and the asparagus can be substituted with peas, green beans or any leafy green vegetable.
1# dried penne regate
1# fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, choppe1/4 cup butter
1/2 pound cubed fully cooked ham
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper
Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional
Cook the pasta following the package directions. Drain, but do not rinse. Reserve a cup or so of the cooking water.
Sauté the onion in the butter. When soft, add the asparagus and ham. Continue cooking for 5-6 minutes. Add the cream and let reduce for a minute or two. Add the pasta and mix well. Serve with the Parmesan cheese.