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Jessie Raymond: Clean closet, healthy mind … briefly

What with the drama surrounding this year’s presidential election, the past week or so has had many of us on edge. But I’ve got it worse than you: Due to the Addy Indy print deadline, I’m writing this before Election Day.
You, at least, know how things turned out.
The relief (or outrage) you are currently feeling hasn’t reached me yet. Instead, I’m still experiencing wild mood swings. I spend my spare time cycling from guffawing at satirical clips from late-night television, to refreshing fivethirtyeight.com, to stocking up on nonperishable foods and bottled water.
I want to get through the election believing that our country will survive. Of course it will. But what if it doesn’t? It always has. But this time’s different. Or is it?
I’m kind of a mess.
Last weekend, my stress levels peaked. I needed to feel a sense of control over something. Anything. So I did the only thing I could think of: I cleaned out the guest room closet.
It was an uncharacteristic move; I generally prefer to assuage anxiety with food, not cleaning. But these are desperate times.
Why the guest room closet? Because what goes in there never seems to come out. If you have a guest room, chances are it only gets used a few times a year, and even then, guests don’t use the closet. (If they do, you might want to have a little talk about how long they plan to stay, or do what I do: Set a little sign on the nightstand that reads “Thank you for staying with us. Check-out is at 11 a.m.”)
As the least used area of the house, the guest room closet becomes a holding place for all the crap you never use or just don’t know what to do with.
Ours is about 4 feet wide by 10 feet deep — too narrow to be a comfortable walk-in, but nonetheless enormous by normal closet standards. It has no light, so for the past 10 years we’ve pretty much just shoved stuff in, pushing whatever is already there farther into the closet’s dark recesses, never to be seen again.
Some might have called it a mess. Last weekend, I called it a 4-by-10-foot coping mechanism.
I boldly went where no Raymond had gone before, tying one end of a long rope around my waist, the other to the guest room poster bed, just in case I got in so deep I couldn’t find my way out. Packing a head lamp, an ample supply of trail mix and an emergency flare, I set out to reach the back of the closet.
Though ultimately a tame adventure, my expedition revealed a host of forgotten projects, most notably several banged-up old nightstands, all of which I had intended to paint or refinish one of these days. Beyond them lay two broken lamps and a mildew-stained Roman shade I had planned to over-dye back in 2009. Tucked behind those sat a bag containing such valuable items as a pair of dress shoulder pads, because, hey, they’re bound to come back in style eventually.
Past all that, I found the kids’ old things. Children grow up and move out, but they leave behind belongings they insist are precious, just not precious enough to take with them. (I confess, under the boys’ old textbooks, sports trophies and tattered baseball caps, I found some of my own precious high school belonging. This was the junk my parents, looking to reclaim their own guest room closet, had snuck, one box at a time, into my car every time I went home to visit after college.)
They say clutter is just unmade decisions, and I made a lot of decisions last weekend. I gave away what I could, threw out the stuff no one would take, and, in a final copout, relegated the last of the unmade decisions to the barn attic — the only place we use less than the guest room closet.
The cleaning was tedious, but it worked. It distracted me for a time and gave me control over at least a corner of my world.
I know I probably didn’t need to get so worked up about the election. You are reading this, after all, which means, regardless of the outcome on Nov. 8, our democracy did not implode.
It also means I wasted a lot of money on nonperishable foods and bottled water.
Oh, well. At least now I’ve got 40 square feet to store it all in.

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