Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Ptolemy Grey's Apartment Motivates Me To Renew Clutter War Efforts

In The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, Walter Mosley writes about a 91 year old man whose grand nephew comes by his apartment twice a week to take him shopping for cans of tuna.  I'll skip ahead to where Reggie is out of the picture and 17 year old Robyn is now over to look out for Ptolemy.

Ptolemy's mind is not always in the present and his apartment is a mess.  No, that doesn't describe it.  In fact, reading this made my mom's garage seem eligible for a spread in Better Homes and Gardens.  Let me give you the picture.

"What is that smell?"  Robyn asked him.
"I don't know.  There's parts'a the house I cain't get into anymore.  The bathroom, half the kitchen.  I ain't been deep in the bedroom since before what's-his-name, uh, Reggie, would come."
"You got a bedroom an' you sleepin' under a table?"
. . .
"Don't go in there," Ptolemy said when Robyn opened the door to the bathroom.
"I got to, Mr. Grey,"  she said.  "If I'ma be comin' here an' looking' aftah you I got to have a toilet to go to."
While Ptolemy tried to think of some other way he could have Robyin's company and keep her out of the bathroom, she opened the door and went in.
"Oh my God,"  she said.  "What is this?"
A large wad of blackened towels flew out from the doorway and landed with a thump on the small bare area of the crowded floor.
Ptolemy covered his face with his hands.
"You got suitcases in the bathtub,"  Robyn called out.  "An' there's black stuff growin' in the commode.  There's, oh my God, oh no. . ."

The kitchen and the bedroom have similar problems.  But soon Robyn takes Mr. Grey to the hardware store and buys a bunch of cleaning equipment and garbage bags.  And some bug bombs.  They go to a motel for two nights while the bug bombs are killing the cockroaches and other vermin in the house and then she spends five days cleaning the apartment.

Five days.  That's all.  I was embarrassed.  I've been fighting the clutter wars at a downright leisurely pace.   I've even got a clutter war tag on the blog.

Five days.  I need to set some deadlines for making room in this house.  Mind you, our commodes have no evil black gunk nor are there suitcases in the bathtubs.  There's just one room downstairs which has been a staging area for things moving out of the house.  The garage is the next way station for outgoing junk.

Five days.   OK, now I'm getting serious.  And while most of you probably don't care about any of this, posting it, I hope, will force me to speed up the pace and really get the garage and downstairs storage room into much more aesthetic and usable space.

An hour tonight in the garage.  It's not a lot, but it's a start.  I find taking pictures of big jobs before I start, helps remind me when I'm done for the day, that I actually have accomplished something.  (I hope you can tell which is the before and which is the after picture.)

I still have to figure out where to get rid of a couple of old computer printers.  OK, thanks for indulging me here.

By the way, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey isn't a great book, but it's good, and it did get inside the mind  of a 91 year old who is having troubles staying in the present.  As a youngster myself, I can't judge the accuracy, but it did make me think about what the world might look like when my brain isn't always functioning right.  


  1. Wow, I think that's huge progress. I think you've inspired me.

  2. As a fellow warrior in the clutter battles, I enjoy these posts of yours.

  3. I used to do this for a living, made big money on it. The saddest thing was when I got hired by families after the owner was moved out of the house, usually for senility issues. My dog the things I would find. I made sure that at least one of the relatives or caretakers was with me because of the incredible amount of money, jewelry, antique stamps and coins I would turn up. It was shocking to me to say the least to know the people who hoarded the stuff could have used to to make their lives so much more livable. I knew in my heart the relatives would just pocket it and not use it to care for their elderly relative.
    As for your printers, call your local trash disposal place and see if they know of any electronics recyclers.

  4. Apartment Therapy. That book helped a friend of mine. They have a blog--it isn't just for NYC apartments, either. You create an Outbox for stuff you're not sure of, and if you've had a chance to think about it you get rid of it by selling, donating, trashing, etc.

  5. I just finished reading "The Hoarder in You" by Robin Zasio (it was recommended in the NYT). I found it to be surprisingly insightful and helpful. -- Recovering Hoarder

  6. Oh my! This is my #1 challenge right now: decluttering. ridding myself of not-needed possessions.

    For me, this has become pressing because of two recent deaths in my family. How very painful to have to get rid of the dear possessions of a lifetime. But if it hadn't been me, sensitively looking through and sorting things, it would have ALL gone into a dumpster. When I die, it will all go into a dumpster. So I am motivated to do that now, to spare my children the pain. Easy to say, hard to do, though.

    Someone told me the "bag-a-day" method: you pick up one grocery bag full of stuff you can get rid of each day. Seems like so little per day. But, she said, "one day the clouds part, the sun shines upon a patch of order, and you can see the difference. A huge difference."

    I know the truth of "clutter slows you down." It weighs upon you, helping depression get worse.

    Suze Ormand says "when you clean up, you find money." Ridiculous, I thought. But it has come true for me enough times that I know she is right. And giving good stuff away, so someone else can use it: a blessing.

  7. I'm glad you posted. So many are in the same boat. I have been on a decluttering mission since May! Five days simply won't do it. Even though I've made great progress, I still have to motivate myself to keep it up. I want faster results! but some things just take time. Good luck with your clutter! I find watching Hoarders is good for some motivation.


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