Cleaning the Junk Drawer

I am a bad person. Not a bad person in a deviant, psychotic kind of way, but a bad person in a disorganized, slovenly kind of way.

It’s the piles of papers to be filed, runaway shoes to capture, articles to read, junk mail to toss, drawers to sort out, CDs to transfer to my IPod, and RSVPs to be RSVPed that simply overrun my sanity and desire for a pristine, well ordered life. A life that boasts of cross-indexed online recipes and beautiful leather photo albums containing neat rows of childhood pictures made complete with the notation of date and location.

I fantasize about the consummate closet with a wardrobe that makes me look ridiculously thin and is arranged according to season and color on identical hangers all facing the same way. I swoon at the thought of a G-Mail contact list that actually has current names and addresses and I envision a pantry bursting with every imaginable canned good stacked, alphabetized and ready for the taking. I dream about a bill paying system so efficient that it would make an accountant’s heart flutter and I revel in the notion of a tidy medicine cabinet where the Nyquil and Vicodin coexist peacefully with the deodorant and Q-tips. All of these thoughts delight and titillate me until I open my eyes and take a good look around.

My life is a demilitarized zone. Billows of dirty laundry cascade with the clean, unfolded laundry to mock me. Sections of The New York Times Sunday edition lay dismembered and silent in dusty corners and underneath coffee cups. Pots and pans practice a sophisticated balancing act in cupboards too small to contain their girth. Coins and paper clips, raisins and anti-depressants skitter and hide, oblivious to my incessant calling. Occasionally the cat will shimmy out from under the piles to snack on kibbles and bits only to disappear back into the lagoon of stuff. Occasionally my husband does the same.

It’s not like I don’t have help. I’m married to a man whose idea of a lazy Sunday morning is cleaning his golf clubs and arranging them by style and function before next week’s game. This is of course before he washes the cars and goes to church. (See, I told you I was a bad person.)

Helen, the soft-spoken Polish woman who comes in once a month to do the heavy lifting clucks her tongue disapprovingly while I pick up in front of her like a mouse frantically running a maze towards the promise of a tidy nirvana. Like the kryptonite that renders Superman powerless, I am convinced that during my autopsy scientists will discover a genetic defect hidden deep in my DNA that leaves me defenseless against the forces of chaos. Even that sweet, tidy husband who loves me is certain that in the event of my kidnapping he would be able to find me by simply following the trail of open drawers, cabinets left ajar and leftover lemon drops scattered about in the mayhem.

There is just too much to manage. I have tried everything from clearing my clutter with Feng-shui, to buying boxes and containers, files and magazine racks, bowls and organizers to help me. I have even subscribed to magazines that promise to unlock the enigma of an orderly life like it was the third secret of Fatima. However, instead of being part of the solution, they are part of the problem, as they lay strewn across the floor like nachos after a drunken Super bowl party. For me, organizing my life is like crash dieting. It holds great promise but never works for long.

This disarray does not restrict itself to my house. My car, my makeup box, and all of my books are crammed with notes and receipts, Carmex and business cards, writing ideas and Splenda. Even my purse looks like an Office Depot has detonated.  I am not dirty. I don’t hoard. I don’t even collect. I am just disorganized. I can’t get on top of it and can’t get out from under it.

Lately however, I didn’t understand why this suddenly bothered me so much. After all, I’ve spent the last 40 years living with mounds that kept growing around me as fast a freshman girl in a wonder bra and I was fine with it.

Then one afternoon, while chasing a fugitive set of keys, it struck me that I was mad. I was mad that I couldn’t control my mess and mad that I couldn’t control the mess that the world was in. I was mad at my health, and my thighs and the fact that my parents were getting old.  I was mad at BP for the massive destruction they’ve caused and the lies that they are still telling.  I was mad that I like to smoke and that broccoli is healthier than a double fudge lava cake.  I was mad that we were still debating this Gay marriage issue and madder that 40% of our homeless are Veterans. I was mad that even with my I phone, E mail, texting, Facebook and Twitter that I still feel disconnected. I was mad that we are being forced to cut budgets for disabled Americans and that the Bush administration rewrote our Constitution and no one noticed. I was mad that as an educated and socially responsible person I still want to read the tabloids- all of them and after we bailed-out wall street, the banks are foreclosing on homes at a record rate. And I was mad that my good and kind friend Molly had just died of cancer.

I was mad at God and all the Patron Saints, my spirit guides and Buddha, for that matter, for not showing up when they were supposed to.  And I was mad at Super-Pacs and all of the Kardashians for — well, for just being them.  I was furious that everything was careening out of control like that loose hubcap spinning on the expressway.

All in all, I was pretty pissed. So for days I tried to breathe, sit in the mess of my life, meditated and waited for some divine guidance. Nothing happened.  Then yesterday, I got sick and tired of all the breathing and waiting crap and decided to do something. Something that would move me forward or up or out of the chaos. So, I decided to clear off a tiny area in front of the computer on my desk.

I wanted to create just one small pocket of order that might give me some peace and reassurance. In other words, I would clean up what I could clean up. And there, elbow deep in the compost, I discovered a granite paperweight that had etched in stone. “A cluttered desk is a sign of genius” and for the first time in a long time, I laughed.

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5 Responses to “Cleaning the Junk Drawer”


  1. 1 Terry 02/14/2012 at 02:37

    Arlene, as long as i have known you this is the way your brain works. You filter out the things that really have no meaning and concentrate on the things that do. So i guess the stuff piled up, so what. Organize a little corner for yourself and then do something you like ,I suggest writing. we all enjoy reading your work, the other stuff will come.

    • 2 arlene malinowski 02/14/2012 at 17:57

      Hi Sweetie- Thank you for making me feel better- I know that I’m not Annette. Sending love.

  2. 3 Dorothy Biddle 02/14/2012 at 14:10

    OMG Arlene…I thought I was the only one that went through all of this about being organized….i too have done the same things you have done…Loved this blog….and you are right..A cluttered desk is a sign of genius” !!!

    We just got our kitchen redone and I told my husband…”no more junk drawer” –But then I thought….where am i going to put all this stuff??? There will always be a junk drawer. If it makes you feel any better, my junk drawer looked 20 times worse than yours—Yours looked rather organized compared to mine!!

    Your CODA buddy….Dorothy Biddle

    • 4 arlene malinowski 02/14/2012 at 17:54

      I think I need a personal assistant to follow me around. Wanted to let you know that I will be performing at Indiana University on March 7- Also, there is a great CODA show happening Feb 25th out in the burbs. The Abababa world tour. I will send you info. Your COda Sis

  3. 5 Jenni Kuida 02/18/2012 at 00:41

    Arlene! You have a junk drawer. I have entire junk rooms. Ughh! Well said. Love to see you perform, and love to read your writing. Hugs. :)Jenni


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