2011.05.24 A prefect mess can be perfectly delightful

Written by David Green.

It always feels like cheating when I reuse an old column instead of writing a fresh one. But, I hope you’ll understand—my grandbaby Caroline is here and I’d rather be holding her than just about anything. This column is from four years ago, Feb. 21, 2007, when Maddie—who just graduated from the University of Michigan—was still a senior in high school. 

By COLLEEN LEDDY

An emergency situation arose Sunday when David couldn’t find the sleeve for a Netflix movie he wanted to send back. I last remembered seeing it on the dining room table. Maybe it should be called the dining room tornado.

The table displays the vestiges of a whirlwind of activity from Observer business-related stuff like bill paying and payroll to recent birthday cards and presents. There’s a melange of receipts, unread books, components of the next library project, David’s laptop computer and attending stack of notes for pending stories, and a host of other flotsam and jetsam.

The urgency in David’s voice set off a spate of semi-frantic cleaning as I cleared items in search of the sleeve. Nothing is ever really lost at our house. It’s not like we live in squalor; we just tend to use horizontal surfaces in a vertical way.

Still, it’s always a good thing to be forced to wade through piles of stuff and I soon found the joy in the job. I unearthed things that really needed my attention, such as college-related financial aid forms for Rozee and Maddie, and fun things like some really cool note cards from our friend Brenda. 

Those cards inspired me to write Brenda a letter, and a recipe for sticky toffee pudding, which Liz made for my birthday, evoked memories of probably the single most delicious thing that ever passed my lips...and I’m including Green and Black’s Maya Gold organic dark chocolate and Black Bottom Cupcakes in that comparison. DVD sleeve forgotten, I settled in for the long haul and began a letter to my friend Adrienne, who’s been waiting more than a month for that recipe.

I had told her about the sticky toffee pudding—really, it’s more like a cake and it’s so divine—and she was eager to try it. She thought it sounded like a flavor of ice cream that won a Häagen Dazs contest on the Food Network.

I wrote Adrienne, all the while thinking, “It’s been a long time, I should really just call her.” Not three minutes after I sealed the envelope, the phone rang and it was Adrienne. This happens to me often; it’s a little eerie, but it saves on phone bills.

So, I wrote my two letters, gathered and sorted many documents I needed to photocopy, placed post-it notes on items reminding me where they belonged, plucked pencils and pens and paperclips from the sea of papers, put like with like, recycled the old, tossed the useless—I was at it for chunks of time before David said Maddie had already found the sleeve and he had tucked the DVD inside.

I could have griped, but I had such a delightful sense of accomplishment. And I’ve been reading “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder—How crammed closets, cluttered offices, and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place,” by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman.

So, instead of wallowing in the usual remorse and shame at the state of my table, I was cheerful and energetic, filled with expectancy and a twinge of excitement—what would I come across next? What misplaced jewel would rise to the surface? It was a process of discovery and glee. It was a perfect mess.

Now, I am awaiting another book, eager to see what impact it will have on my lifestyle: “Not Buying It: My year without shopping,” by Judith Levine.

Maddie wasn’t too thrilled to hear that title. I’m guessing she figures it doesn’t bode well for her last months at home if I’m not going to shop much.

“I don’t think I’m going to like that,” she said.

I don’t think I’m going to like her leaving. No more kids at home. The nest: truly empty. Maybe it’ll cut down on the mess. I’m doubting that, though. However, it does give me an idea for a title of a book I could write.

The Empty Mess: What’s Left When All Your Children Leave Home and Don’t Take All Their Crap with Them, but You Don’t Really Mind That So Much as the Fact That They Are Really Gone and All You Are Left With Is a Lot of Really Useless Crap.

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