2008.02.20 Embrace the chaos...and the cuttle fish

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Of all the books I’ve ever read on corralling clutter, by far the finest is the one I read most recently, “Eliminate Chaos” by Laura Leist.

The best thing about the book is the abundant use of “before” photos. Just looking at other people’s messes was enough to motivate me to rip through a free-standing 10-shelf cupboard in our kitchen and whip that chaos into control.

I matched like items with like and pitched every old thing: tea bags went flying, the dregs of cereal bags were ditched, packages of instant cocoa perished. Anything past a visible expiration date expired in the great exodus.

I set aside seven unique items, but couldn’t bring myself to toss them. I will, soon enough, but for some, I need permission from family members, and even then, it’s going to be hard.

Here’s the list:

• Bumble Bee premium pink salmon in a new-fangled aseptic sort of foil pouch.

• Cica jurema feijao branco. The picture tells me the contents are white beans.

• Mococa doce de leite. I think that translates to dulce de leche which translates to caramel, maybe? “Industria Brasileira” it reads on this and the bean can which makes me think Ben brought them back from Brazil when he visited exchange student Sergio Filho.

Or maybe Sergio brought them when he returned for a visit with his mom. Either way, these cans are old—they’re from Ben’s high school days. He’s been out of college nearly two years and he was in a five-year program. Don’t even bother doing the math—they’re too old to eat.

• A package of Devon lemon cream biscuits (galleta rellena con crema de limon) Rozee brought back from her trip to Belize nearly four years ago.

I hate to throw these things away, partly because the packaging is so interesting, so decidedly not of this country, but also because they remind me of the trips Ben and Rozee have taken.

And then there is some just plain disgusting stuff that was given to us, stuff that is kind of funny, stuff that we really ought to pass on as gag gifts at next year’s Green family Christmas exchange. It’s the kind of stuff we’ve been known to give away as door prizes at birthday parties we’ve hosted.

• A tiny three-ounce can of Armour “potted meat food product.” It’s kind of Spammy looking, and Spam always makes me kind of gag to look at it.

• A package of instant cuttle fish from I don’t even know where. There are six different languages on the package in addition to English. Ah, I finally spy that it comes from Viet Nam, so it must be a present from David’s well-traveled brother Thom.

• A can of Road-Hit Possum, “fresh from the roads of Hendersonville, North Carolina.”

The most embarrassing of this collection is the Bumble Bee premium pink salmon I purchased and then could never open because the flat shiny red foil packaging was just too new-fangled for me—I began to doubt the quality of its contents and it just sat in the cupboard getting old and older.

I have this thing about consuming old food...I just can’t do it. I could never find an expiration date anywhere on the package, and then I could never find it within me to just throw it out.

The salmon labels me a wastrel, a wanton reckless consumer. It’s not like the tea that just got old before we used it. The salmon was purchased and then actively ignored.

We have a lot of stuff at our house like this—stuff purchased and never used, stuff fraught with meaning and memories, stuff past its prime, stuff David labels “cultural artifacts,” stuff that needs another home.

I could do like one friend—open my arms wide and proclaim, “I embrace the chaos!” or like another and pray for a natural disaster to level my house, but I think I’ll be happiest if I can find new homes for my clutter.

Maybe we could wrap up the lot and give it away as party favors at Rozee’s wedding this July.

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