MELISSA HURLEY – San Francisco – 2010

            A few months ago, I visited a friend. Despite having two small children, her house reflected calm and order. It was spotless and, more importantly, seemingly devoid of clutter. I imagined our house, with its piles of outgrown clothes, stacks of outdated art projects, mounds of books and toys.

            “How do you do it?” I asked.

            “I purge,” she said. “When a piece of clothing is outgrown, or a toy is not being used anymore, I put it in a bag and then, when the bag is full, I give it to the next person who needs it.”

            What a seemingly easy, yet exceptional idea, I thought. For a few days, I made it a point to gather my brand-new daughter Greta’s outgrown clothes into brown paper bags and deliver them to pregnant friends or to Goodwill. It felt like progress; I felt lighter, hopeful.

            Then, on March 9, as my husband was shifting furniture in my son Colton’s room to make space for his first big-boy bed, he unearthed some items we hadn’t seen for awhile. One was Colton’s Birthday Book, a special journal with spaces for pictures and writings to record each year. I flipped through it. Sadly, I had dutifully recorded the events around Colton’s first birthday, but that was it. The remaining blank pages tore at my heart. How had his next two birthdays gone unrecorded?

            The book also contained “time capsules”–envelopes you’re supposed to fill with memorabilia and then seal. If I had been the sort of mother who had used the book, what would that envelope contain, I wondered. A page full of Colton’s scribbles, a snip of his hair, one of his tiny socks to remind me how small his foot once was. Probably almost anything from a year ago would now seem like a treasure.

            I remembered the baby clothes I had cavalierly sent out into the world. Would I someday regret not keeping one outfit? Even now, the memory of the baby’s first month has faded. Shouldn’t I have saved something from those sleepless weeks–the fuzzy pajamas with stripes and a faded poop stain, maybe–to help remind me of her tiny size, her floppy neck, her helplessness?

            The truth of the matter is that being organized is as much about knowing what to save as it is about knowing what to discard. Until I master that skill, I’ll have to be content with a bit of chaos in my life.