posted Wed, 01 Sep 2004
My hermana de alma Laura has resorted to exporting the junk in her house from Austin to Houston. Her younger child just started school this year. Now that Laura has some free time, she has undertaken the task of doing a thorough cleaning of the house where she and her husband, Dave, have lived for 11 years.
Dave is a pack rat. He doesn’t want to throw anything away. Laura has no such compunction. An immigrant who came to the US from Cuba with her family when she was three years old, she is used to traveling light.
And she is accustomed to using subversive tactics when appropriate. Years ago, I had a boyfriend who always wore a hideous, appalling, disgusting brown, short-sleeved polyester shirt. It was nasty. But I could not convince him not to wear it. He liked it. (He had been a computer programmer before going to business school and had not overcome his previous conditioning, apparently. He would wear short-sleeve shirts with a tie to his internship with a stock brokerage. Yuk.)
I said something about it once to Laura. “Oh, yeah. Dave dressed terribly before he married me. But now he gets compliments at work all the time. Here’s what you do: You ‘lose’ stuff like the ugly shirt and you replace it with nice stuff. Just put it in the drawer or the closet. When they ask about it, you say, ‘That’s been there forever!’ By the time they notice that the ugly stuff is gone, they have gotten used to getting compliments about the new clothes.”
I solved the ugly shirt problem by breaking up with this guy. I don’t have that problem with Harpo, who dresses far more nicely than I do most of the time.
Laura’s current problem is that there is 11 years worth of stuff in the house. When she started throwing things away, Dave got upset and retrieved stuff from the trash. So then she put it into the neighbors’ trash. Dave found that, too.
Her parents visited from Houston last week. “I sent a carload of junk home with my mom and dad,” she said. “That’s the only way I can get it out of the house.”
Another strategy is to throw away most of something, like the magazines, but rearrange the remaining ones so they look like more than they are. “I moved the Bon Apetits from the family room to the utility room,” she said. “I threw out most of them, but then spread the leftovers on the shelves. The first thing Dave asked that night when he got home was ‘Where are the magazines?’ I told him they were in the utility room. When he saw them, it looked like they were all there, so he was satisfied.”
The first question her daughter Corina asks when she can’t find something now is “Mami, did you throw away my [whatever]?”
In addition to trying to get rid of the stuff that is already in the house, Laura also has to prevent the influx of new stuff.
“If it has a heartbeat, it is not coming into this house,” she said firmly.
“Mami, can I have a puppy?” Corina asked.
“No, it has a heartbeat.”
“Does a fish have a heartbeat?”
“Yes. No fish.”
I know Laura will prevail against Dave, because it is the Cuban vs the laid-back gringo, but she and Corina share blood. Corina is already borrowing Laura’s shoes and has her eye on certain outfits in Laura’s closet. “Mami, when I’m grown up, may I borrow that?” Laura might have met her match.
The end of the line
11 months ago