Back to Normal

It was cold this morning, with supposedly a wind chill of 25 below. The weather service issued a warning to be careful, that such a chill could give exposed skin frostbite within 35 minutes. I wasn’t concerned because I always bundle up, then I remembered — my face! I don’t wear a ski mask or anything like that, not even a muffler pulled up over my nose, because it tends to fog my glasses, and then the fog freezes. It’s so much better to simply stay inside.

So I did.

Because I’ve been spending so much time inside lately, the Christmas clutter has been getting to me. I figured today was a good day to start putting things away, and to my surprise, not only did I start, but I finished!

Without all the decorations and Christmas boxes and ribbons and such, the living room seems bare, but by tomorrow I will be used to the bareness again.

It’s funny to me how so often in mystery stories, a character who lives in a stark place with no pictures and knickknacks strewn around is suspect. Such a person has to be secretive, burying a shady past or hiding a felonious present.

I hope that’s not true in real life, that people who see my empty walls and lack of knickknacks don’t automatically assume I am not as I appear. And if it is true, I don’t suppose it matters. Mostly, though, people seem to be comfortable when they are here. Without being suffocated by my stuff, visitors can — for the time they are here — write themselves into the place. Many people love to have photos and knickknacks everywhere, which does put a personal touch to their space, but it can be overwhelming to live with. For me, anyway. Hence my empty walls and tables.

I do have a couple of personalizing touches — a book shelf and a glass-fronted cabinet — so my space isn’t a complete blank, but there’s nothing on the coffee table and the only things on the lamp tables are lamps.

There is one room with clutter, and that is my work/play room, but the clutter is that of living — electronics and books and notes and started projects. Oh, and a shelf for all my tarot cards.

I’m hoping for one more cold stay-inside day so I can do a thorough cleaning. I did vacuum up as much of the glitter as I could, but I’m sure a lot of sparkles drifted under the couch and bed the way dust does. Of course, no matter how well one cleans, there will always be a bit of glitter hiding in corners and cracks, so it’s a lost cause, but I would at least like to make an effort now that my living room is back to normal.

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Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Living in a Gated Community

Four years ago, I rented a room in a modular house in a 55+ gated community, and the experience gave me the creeps. Although the people I generally hung around with were older than me, I didn’t like being forced into an area with only retired folks. It seemed too segregated. That these people were a mixed lot, all colors, nationalities, and opinions, did not mitigate their age-related sameness.

I vowed never to live in a gated community, and yet here I am:

In my defense, these gates enclose a community of one — me. (Can one person be a community? It seems rather oxymoronic.)

When I moved here, I liked that only a portion of the backyard was enclosed. It didn’t intimidate me the way a large yard would have; it was less yard to take care of, and I am not a fan of lawn pampering. When the safety factor of a fence was pointed out to me, I had to agree that fencing the whole place was important. After all, this is my old age home, and the person I am now has to look after the person I will become.

As it turns out, I like the fence. I like having a large yard. I like looking around and greedily thinking, “This is mine!” At least it’s mine for now. Obviously, I can’t take the property with me after I’m gone, so it’s more that I have a life tenancy. Which is okay. That’s all I need.

Most of my life, I have done without. In a culture that seemed bent on accumulating as much as possible, I tried to keep my possessions to a bare minimum. Now, when the fad is to get rid of one’s excess and to declutter, I am cluttering.

Still, part of the decluttering movement is about keeping things that bring you joy, and seeing my things after so many years of being in storage, seeing my pristine kitchen and my cozy living room with its beautiful furniture, seeing my winter-brown yard, all make me smile. Even something so mundane as those gates make me smile.

Yep, a whole lot of smiling going on in this little gated community of one!

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Decluttering

In between bouts of sorting and packing my stuff (which in many cases entails finishing started projects so I can store the equipment and supplies in their appropriate boxes), I’ve been clearing out my father’s stuff. I’m leaving the furniture in the house for now because supposedly it’s harder to sell completely empty houses, but even though my father lived sparsely, there are still many things to be sorted through and given away or boxed up for donation— medical and first aid items, bedding, towels, office supplies, dishes and kitchen tools, books, and on and on. And then there are the personal and household cleaning products that can only be tossed away. (I donated his clothes to a rescue mission a couple of months ago.)

I’m making procleangress on clearing out the house. In fact, most of the rooms except the linen closet and the kitchen (and my rooms, of course) have been decluttered. Nothing personal remains to destroy the fictive dream of prospective buyers. (Apparently, house hunters need to see themselves in the house, and other people’s possessions keep them from doing so.)

Strangely, after all these years, I’m falling in love with the house. I’ve appreciated the shelter, but never had any fondness for the house itself. It has been a sad place for me, the place I came to nurse my grief, to look after and then nurse my father, to deal with my abusive/alcoholic/schizophrenic brother. But as I am cleaning out the stuff in house, I am also cleaning out my “stuff” — my grief for my deceased life mate/soul mate, my despair over my brother, my complicated dealings with my father.

When my dysfunctional brother was here and banned from the house, he often expressed outrage that I lived like a millionaire and never felt grateful for the great gift I’d been given. I used to think, “No millionaire has ever had to look after both an abusive brother and a dying father, being torn between the two of them.” But what do I know. Maybe that’s what being a millionaire is all about.

Now however, I am living like a millionaire, reigning over a house full of empty rooms that speak to me of peace and comfort, of expansiveness, of new possibilities. (It is ironic that I so love empty rooms because I live in a clutter of projects-in-progress.)

Although the house is more than ten years old, there has never been a fire in either fireplace, nothing has been cut on the cutting board, the Jacuzzi has only been used a couple of times, there has never been more than one car in the three-car grease-free garage. Someone, somewhere, will be getting a lovely barely-used house to turn into a home.

And me? Well, I’ll be . . . somewhere. But I’ll always be grateful I had this time to declutter.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.