The Magic of Clutter Clearing
Updated: Feb 9
February through March, as Northwoods temperatures dip and fall below zero, I limit my outside activities and organize my house instead.
Too much physical clutter saps my energy and negatively alters my mood. I waste time looking for misplaced or hidden items. As a remedy, I periodically tackle clutter, even if only for a few minutes at a time. The task can be challenging, but always rewarding. Sometimes this activity cleans up psychological clutter too.
One winter day, a few years ago, as I sorted through a box that was taking up valuable space on a basement shelf, I discovered two of my old Camp Fire Girl certificates. (Camp Fire Girls is a multicultural, multiracial organization in many ways like the Girl Scouts. Bluebirds are the younger girls, similar in age to Brownie Scouts.)
Finding these old items from my past stirred up memories of my Bluebird and Camp Fire Girl days.
Eight years old, at camp for Bluebirds and Camp Fire Girls, determined to be one of the best Bluebirds ever, I took the official Bluebird pledge:
“To have fun.
To learn to make beautiful things.
To remember to finish what I begin.
To learn to keep my temper in
And learn about nature and living outdoors.
To have adventures and all sorts of things
And make friends.”
I aspired to do all this, but I also wished to earn Bluebird awards.
All week I took part in Bluebird activities and, although a little homesick, I had “fun”. I hiked a wooded trail with my camp counselor alongside new “friends”. I learned “about nature and living outdoors” and made “beautiful things”. I drew wild flowers: jack-in-the-pulpits, wild violets, and trilliums. I sketched different tree leaves: maple, oaks, birches and mountain ash. I learned to identify different birds. In the evenings, at the campfire with the counselors and the other girls, I ate gooey, delicious marshmallow-graham cracker s’mores and sang “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree. “ I was as merry as could be and also looked forward to the award ceremony at the main lodge.
At the end of the week, the evening of the awards night, I wore my white Bluebird shirt, navy blue beaded vest, cap and skirt to dinner. I raced through the meal which included corn on the cob and dribbled butter on my skirt. Off to a messy start, I didn’t realize the evening was going to get worse.
Afterwards, like good Bluebirds, we “finished what we began” and helped clean up. I cleared dirty dishes off the tables and wiped down the plastic tablecloths with a dishrag dipped in a small pail of hot, soapy water. Other girls swept the floor while the rest worked in the kitchen.
Finished with KP, we headed toward the rows of metal folding chairs facing the stage. Not fast enough to get a front row seat, I claimed a chair a few rows back.
While I waited, I admired my vest decorated with wooden beads of different shapes and colors. Mom had helped me sew them on in a flower design pattern. Smooth to the touch, these charms comforted me. Brown beads represented awards for achievements in environment and nature. Red beads were for sports, games and science; yellow for home projects; green for creativity.
I stopped playing with my beads when Mrs. Stevens, one of the Bluebird leaders, walked up to the stage, welcomed everyone, and introduced the counselors’ skits. I sat up straight and stretched my neck so I could see the stage between the other girls in the rows in front of me. Watching the counselors make fun of themselves, I stopped swinging my legs and giggled along with everyone else. For a moment, I forgot about the awards.
Skits over, Mrs. Stevens returned to the stage and though she looked like Glinda, the good witch from the “The Wizard of Oz,” she wasn’t always kind. She played favorites and I wasn’t one of them. Clearing her throat, she spoke into the microphone. “Tonight, we’re going to do something extra special. We’re giving out beauty awards for each of you lovely girls.”
My muscles tensed. Bluebirds were supposed to seek beauty, but I didn’t think the manual mentioned anything about assessing the beauty of individual girls.
“The most beautiful eyes award goes to Sharon Pressler." I winced. Sharon was one of Mrs. Stevens’ favorites. Sharon skipped up to the stage.
“The most beautiful hair award goes to Susie Johnson!”
The beads on my vest began to lose their charm. Fluffing her curls, Susie bounced up onto the stage, and grabbed her award.
Mrs. Stevens continued on with the awards: most beautiful nose, eyelashes and eyebrows.
Each time someone else’s name was mentioned, I shrank further into my chair. She was running out of body parts.
Mrs. Stevens turned her head and stared at me. “The most beautiful smile award goes to…” I leaned forward, ready to stand up until she said, “Judy Havens!” Sitting right next to me, Judy grinned and pranced up to the stage.
Finally, I heard my name. “Barbara Weber, you have received the award for the most beautiful… EARS.”
Feeling like the dirty dishrag I’d used to wipe down the dinner tables, I forced myself onto the stage, and pulled my chin-length hair over my ears. I ‘kept my temper in’ as I looked for the nearest wastebasket.
Remembering all this, I almost forgot I was in the basement going through clutter. Comfortably back in the present, Camp Fire Girl, Wood Gatherer and Trail Seeker, certificates in hand, I examined them more closely.
Wood Gatherer: “I will strive to grow strong like the pine tree, to be pure in my deepest desire, to be true to the truth that is in me…”
Trail Seeker: “I desire to seek the way that shall become a delight to my feet, for it will bring me to the fire of human kindness lighted by those who have gone before me…”
Satisfied, and in a better mood, I finished my clutter work for the day and left the storage area with certificates in hand. After going upstairs, I walked over to one of the windows in my home. I watched chickadees and goldfinches take turns at the bird feeders and recognised the winterberry, violets and wild geranium plants growing along the edge of the yard. I looked down at our campfire area and the marshmallow skewers hanging off a hook on an oak tree and smiled. Beyond our campfire, Tippecanoe Lake mirrored the magnificent blue of the cloudless sky. To the right were the piles of split wood I had proudly helped gather and stack. Near the wood was a trailhead where my husband, Bill, and I hiked and found adventure.
Seeing this, it was clear that my Bluebird and Camp Fire Girl experiences had been strong influences in my life and, for the most part, had been gifts. I framed my Camp Fire Girl certificates and hung them in my kitchen as a reminder of what I still wished to strive for.
Viewed with mature perspective, the beauty award, an unfortunate idea of a misquided counselor, lost its power. No longer bogged down with that old junk, I foused on more important things. Clutter clearing had worked its magic once again.
What kind of clutter gets in your way?