Annals of organization

by Sarah McCarthy 

When packing to return to school, I encounter three distinct categories of objects.

The first category is easy to manage – objects that clearly ought to be packed. Such objects include, but are not limited to, clothes that I have worn some time in the last year, a technological device that I actually know how to operate, a toothbrush, a pair of quasi-wearable underwear. These objects are delightful. There is no question about them. They are put into a bag and then completely forgotten about until the unpacking starts.

The second is perhaps even easier – objects that clearly ought to be thrown out. Shredded Kleenex, receipts for a croissant bought in 1998, inkless pens, CDs snapped in half, balls of hair, and other unmentionables fit squarely into this category. These objects are even more delightful, for they are put into a large Hefty bag and, if all goes well, NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. They are out of my life, I have washed my hands of them, and only the garbage man knows where the final resting place may be. I couldn’t relocate them if I tried.

The third, though – the third is why packing is a beast. Objects in the third class taunt me by being neither clearly garbage nor clearly useful either. These objects include, among others: a “J” scrabble tile, a CD which may or may not be blank, a dime, a flip flop, a sock, an eraser, a letter that used to have sentimental value, a freshman year homecoming picture of two people I was never really friends with, half a deck of cards, a cord that probably goes to something, somewhere, a warranty manual that probably also goes with that same something, a graded paper from 10th grade, a page of sheet music from an indeterminate song, a sketchbook with two pages ripped out, a certificate commending me for excellence in 8th grade social studies, a half empty bottle of amoxicillin that reads “Take Daily Until Bottle Complete,” a page of dialogue recorded from people on a bus, a fondue kit, a spool of white thread, and a key that the neighbors might have given me in case of emergency.

Were this a normal time, were I a normal person, these objects would not be seen as mocking instruments of torture. The “J” would be returned to the Scrabble box, the dime put in a change purse, the sock reunited with its mate. Yet now – now there is no time for such niceties. In vain, I pick up the offending objects, look at them sadly, and make a “to deal with later” pile. Five minutes later, I forget that I made such a pile, and seeing an un-packed item, confront it again.  Its place has grown no clearer. Shall I pack it? There is always a good possibility that I might need a spool of white thread at school. But perhaps its place is at home? It only take a few such encounters for my neck muscles to tighten, and just a few more for the patience to snap and for my brain to alight upon a wonderful phrase that I heard in a going-out-of-business ad: Everything Must Go!  Empowered by my new doctrine, I race around the room, wildly throwing everything into either the suitcase of garbage, whichever is nearer or less full. Dimes accidentally go into the trash. I pack the single sandal, despite knowing that no match waits for it at school. I throw out the warranty manual, knowing in the back of my mind that the object it goes to is probably broken and still would be under warranty if I ever bothered to save them.

Once back at school, in a room unencumbered by category 3 items, I resolve that never again will I pack with such abandon. This year is going to be different. I will have a cleaner room, a cleaner life, a room that practically packs itself. In any event, this is what the start of the year should be – the hell of packing, forgotten in the excitement of a new year, another chance to get it right.


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