JIM DODSON: Meet My Wife, the Clutter Hawk
I was sitting on the couch the other evening, watching a college basketball game.
My wife passed through the room and breezily remarked over her shoulder, "Please don't spill anything on the couch. It's going to a cute couple from Farmington. They've just bought their first house. That couch will be perfect for them."
We've owned this couch for a decade. It's a huge designer affair stuffed with Arctic goose feathers and covered by enough imported corduroy to upholster Delaware. I have the fondest memories of sleeping on it through a number of important breaking news events.
But the combination of spring's arrival and the prospect of moving housekeeping 800 miles to Moore County, N.C., has my wife the clutter hawk in a blissful state of personal downsizing.
In a nutshell, if something isn't officially designated a "family heirloom" or nailed down reasonably tight, it's liable to wind up belonging to somebody else any day now.
Last week, a piano nobody had used since the sunny Reagan years -- except the cat, who slept on it -- went out the front door to a family of budding musical prodigies.
This week it is probably going be the gargantuan HD television we were assured was the latest in home entertainment technology shortly before flat-screen TVs became all the rage. Personally, I'm not sorry to see this techno-monster go. I've required the services of a supervising teenager just to turn the dang thing on and off.
Most of the time when she's in the happy house-purging mood, my wife the clutter hawk gives such big-ticket items away free of charge -- simply pleased to find them a good adopted home.
Every now and then, however, she finds new homes for our old stuff and turns a modest profit to pay the oilman his wages by taking out a classified ad in a local home shopper called Uncle Henry's Trading Post.
Apparently there is a vast subculture of people who don't have anything better to do with their time and money than browse a folksy publication full of funky classified ads for other people's clutter. My favorite Uncle Henry's ad recently offered an "authentic Elvis-on-Tour Costume, with real sequined jumpsuit, wig and sideburns" for $500. I was half tempted to invest the oil money.
In any case, that's how our couch found the perfect couple from Farmington, or vice versa. She ran an ad in Uncle Henry's Trading Post that went something along the lines of "Designer couch used only sparingly by husband and lazy golden retriever. In perfect showroom condition. Stuffed with Arctic goose feathers. Very clean. (The couch, I mean, not the husband or golden retriever.)"
As near as I can determine, my thrifty wife's theory of operation, based loosely on Cotton Mather's principle of "waste not, want not," seems to be that if it requires more than two people to carry it from one room to the other and hasn't been used more than once a week during any given calendar year, the object in question might as well keep a bag packed and be ready to roll at a moment's notice.
She has freely confessed, for instance, to happily roaming through the house when the family is out, gathering up forgotten games and toys, discarded articles of questionable teen apparel, underused appliances and even the odd golf club and giving them the bum's rush to Goodwill or the jumble shop.
"If that thing is still on the floor when I come up there," I once heard her warn the boys upstairs, "I promise you it won't be there tomorrow." They had a little playmate over that afternoon. We haven't seen the kid since.
There are worse things, of course, than being married to a woman who detests clutter of any sort and whose material wants and needs rival those of a Trappist monk, though sometimes I catch her silently eyeing me and perhaps wondering how much I might fetch in Uncle Henry's: "Used husband. High mileage but reasonably low maintenance. Requires just two meals per day and a little Lou Dobbs before bed. No reasonable offer refused."
For the moment at least, I think I'm only reasonably safe under the existing "heirloom" clause.
Tackling the Golf Shirts
Every spring about this time of year, however, even during years when we're staying put, the family clutter hawk disappears into her closet and reappears a short time later wearing a rapturous smile and toting an armload of her own expensive designer clothing bound for the church bazaar or the resale aisle at Secondhand Rose.
Frankly, after all these years, it's surprising she has any clothes left. I sometimes think she plans on spending our golden years as a nudist.
The only time I've actually known her to acquire expensive designer clothing is when she finds exactly what she wants at her favorite discount shop and it doesn't make her look one bit overweight, the moon is in the proper phase, the planets are properly aligned, the federal budget is reasonably in check, and the apparel item in question is marked down by a minimum of two-thirds off wholesale. My wife loves to hunt for a bargain the way Dick Cheney loves to hunt for birds, only she has a much better eye and far better trigger finger.
Last week, in this spirit of seasonal personal downsizing, she suggested I finally suck it up and confront my vast collection of designer golf shirts.
I collect expensive golf shirts the way Imelda Marcos used to collect shoes. I have enough golf shirts to outfit a member-guest tournament for the state of Rhode Island.
To be fair, most of the expensive golf shirts I've collected just sit in the back of my closet and are never worn because they came from tournament goody bags or were simply foisted on me by people wishing to promote some swank new golf club or course. Free designer golf shirts are an occupational hazard of the golf-writing profession. That's one reason I had to quit the profession. Free golf shirts were taking over my life.
Every now and then, I will also admit, I've shelled out the mortgage money on an overpriced golf shirt I happened to spot in a pro shop and impetuously thought would make me look as dashing and debonair as, say, Fuzzy Zoeller.
The peculiar thing about owning so many golf shirts, however, is that I wear only three or four of them on a rotating basis, the same white ones and the blue ones I've worn for years. In some cases, decades.
This is partly because every time I try on one of these expensive designer golf shirts, someone in the room bursts out laughing hysterically and points out that I resemble a designer couch stuffed with genuine Arctic goose feathers.
It's also because I'm exceedingly fond of the color white, which is not only not a primary color but also generally held in acute fashion disfavor by the kind of people who buy designer golf shirts. Most golf shirts these days look like they might have been designed by someone whose day job is designing wedding outfits and bathroom wallpaper for the Mob.
My governing color-theory of life, for what it's worth, is that certain intimate consumer goods should come only in basic white. This includes, but is not limited to, toilet paper, golf balls, men's boxer shorts, women's underthings, bath towels, snowfall, aspirin, and glasses of milk. In another life, I must have been a school nurse who liked frisky underwear.
Furthermore, though I'm not the least bit superstitious about what I wear, some years back I noticed that I always play my finest golf while wearing a simple white golf shirt.
Though it's absurd to believe there is any real connection, I must also be wearing faded military-tan cotton khaki pants or shorts that rise precisely to one inch above the kneecap, carrying an official logo pencil (stolen from Pine Valley some years ago) behind my left ear, have my beloved Irish half-pound marking coin neatly tucked in my forward right pocket, and keep an extra Titleist golf ball with the number "3" in my left rear pocket.
It also helps if the moon is in traditional planting mode, I've slept six full hours on my left side, and someone named Enid has recently complimented me on my tastes in aftershave.
Lately I've developed a surprising fondness for blue golf shirts as well, though maybe that's a story for another time and a decent family therapist.
Couch Finally Goes
At the insistence of my wife the clutter hawk, to get on with the point, I spent all afternoon last Saturday going through a mountain of collected designer golf shirts at the back of my closet and re-emerged some time later toting several armloads of beautifully made shirts that will probably make some big guy very happy, assuming he doesn't mind mowing the lawn while resembling a high roller's bathroom in Vegas.
Truthfully, this whole exercise of personally downsizing my golf wardrobe thoroughly exhausted me, and I was forced to stretch out on the couch for a little Lou Dobbs and a short nap after supper.
I dreamed I was Fuzzy Zoeller going on a date with a school nurse named Enid who was dressed weirdly like Elvis Presley. She had sideburns and sequins you wouldn't believe.
"Wake up," my wife the clutter hawk said, mercifully shaking me from this overstuffed nightmare. "The cute couple from Farmington are here to get their couch."
I was off that couch faster than you could say "Uncle Henry's Trading Post," happy to see them arrive -- and that designer couch finally go.
Jim Dodson, The Pilot's writer in residence, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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