Dust is a Noun

Note: This article was written in 1997.

As I sit at this keyboard and reflect on the piles of junk I had to move to find it, I realize I must make some changes to my lifestyle. I can no longer shrug my shoulders and blame it on being a bachelor. This is the second time I’ve held that title but, for the first time, I’m living alone. While there are many positives about my current status, there is one glaring negative – there’s no one but me to blame for the mess.

I’ve thought about going to a hypnotist and submitting to past life regression. It might pinpoint the cause of my disorderly nature. If nothing else, I might discover some traumatic experience from my childhood to explain my sloppiness. In any case, finding something besides me to blame would be far easier than cleaning up.

From time to time I’ve tried to clean up my place, but my efforts always fell short of expectations. Once, I even tried a trick my ex-wife used occasionally – I invited my best friend over for dinner. The theory behind this is simple. I’m supposed to be embarrassed by the thought of an outsider seeing my mess and that fear of embarrassment is supposed to get my adrenaline flowing enough to tackle the household chores. The logic is the same as when a mother tries to get her son to change his underwear by telling him he might have an accident. In other words, the logic isn’t convincing. But I gave it a try anyway.

My best friend is a lady who is brutally honest, yet able to tactfully share her thoughts. Thinking I’d done a respectable job of making my place look decent, I asked her how it looked. She answered with a question of her own. “Don’t you ever dust?”

I couldn’t answer her. I still can’t. To me, dust is a noun. Dusting would be the same as desking or dooring. It’s impossible for me to turn such a noun into a verb.

I told her I change the furnace filter on a regular basis and gather quite a bit of dust that way. She felt I should do more. Perhaps I should, but the dust really doesn’t bother me. In fact, it comes in handy when I need to write something down and can’t find paper and pencil. The only difficulty is in finding a flat surface that hasn’t been buried under junk mail.

I don’t want to give the impression I’m a total slob. My home is not a pig sty… yet. I am truly making an effort to control the situation; I’m just losing the battle to the increasing clutter.

The geometric growth of clutter is a phenomenon that only pack rats can understand. One piece of junk mail left on the kitchen table can totally bury that table within a week. It’s more mysterious than anything ever seen on the X-Files.

Junk mail is poison to someone like me. I know it isn’t worth the effort to open it… so I don’t. At the same time, I imagine I could be the winner of the ten million dollar sweepstakes… so I don’t throw it away either. Each envelop sits there waiting for another so it can mate and reproduce. A piece of junk mail is no less a victim of genetics than I am.

Unfortunately, junk mail is only the tip of my iceberg. My greater problem concerns newspapers, aluminum, glass, plastic, and cardboard. They’re all recyclable and I’ve been brainwashed into believing it’s my duty to save the land fills. I also believe it’s my duty to save the whales, so I don’t eat blubber. I don’t save it either. But I do save all the aforementioned items.

For me, recyclable materials pose a problem of logic compounded by logistics. To take the items I’ve rescued from the garbage to a recycling center, I must make a twenty mile round trip. That equates to a gallon of gas which, I’m told, is a non-renewable fossil fuel that shouldn’t be wasted. Therefore, I wait until my piles of recyclable stuff are large enough to justify the use of the fuel. Since I don’t take daily inventory of the stuff, I don’t think about it until I can no longer find a place to put it. By then, it’s too late. I have too much to fit in my truck. At that point, I must justify the use of two gallons of fossil fuel.

The last time I faced this dilemma, I put a bunch of stuff in plastic garbage bags and moved it outside. When I learned plastic garbage bags are indeed biodegradable – several months of weathering is all it took — I finally made the four trips to the recycling center and disposed of it all… including the shredded garbage bags.

History repeats itself and I’m now approaching the same situation. In the near future, I’ll again grapple with the value of burning four gallons of gas for the sake of the county land fill.

Another problem I’ve had to confront is dirty dishes. Living alone means dining alone but, unlike many bachelors, I prefer to cook my meals from scratch. Occasionally I’ll fix a frozen dinner and simply discard the “plate” when I’ve finished. (Please don’t tell me the “plates” are recyclable; I don’t want to know.) Mostly, I cook real food because it’s cheaper and tastier.

I rely heavily on Hamburger Helper and other one-dish meals to reduce the clean-up. My frying pan has spent a good bit of time in the sink or on the counter waiting to be washed, but I always get to it before preparing my next batch of Potato Stroganoff.

When I bake my food, I use aluminum foil to line the pan. The reason is simple: it means I don’t have to scrub the pan. While being a labor saving technique, the tactic does present another recycling dilemma; do I save the used foil for the sake of the land fill (which means washing it – wasting valuable water and releasing soap chemicals into the environment) or just throw it away (which means discarding another non-renewable resource.)

I usually base my decision on the amount of grease. I try to avoid putting grease into my septic system. (I already have several containers of it in my refrigerator.) Since I’ve never heard any negatives about grease in land fills, I guess it’s all right to dump it there. It’s much easier to simply throw the foil and grease in the garbage can.

An equally persuasive consideration is the amount of gunk baked onto the foil. The bigger the mess, the more soap and water (and labor) I’d have to expend. This rational often makes the decision obvious.

Over time, I’d estimate that at least fifty percent of my foil gets buried. The guilt I feel over the foil ending up in the land fill isn’t as bad as some ecological radicals might demand. I’m able to rationalize by taking into account the volume of raw material I provide the foil makers in the form of empty beer cans.

The dishes I use in lieu of frozen dinner “plates” embody a similar problem. At most, I use one dinner plate, one cereal bowl, one cup, one knife, one fork, and one spoon per day. I can’t justify using a sink full of soapy water to wash so few items. Thus, I save dirty dishes just as I save recyclables. They pile up in the sink until I have no where to put any more. Then, I wash them.

I resolved the worst part of that dilemma several months ago; I bought a portable dish washer. Now, I simply store the dirty dishes in the machine. When it’s full, I wash them. The only remaining problem is having to dig through the junk mail on top of the machine in order to find the hose and electrical cord. Since I only wash dishes every week to ten days, the junk mail has time to go through numerous reproductive cycles. As time goes on, the junk mail is becoming a bigger imposition.

Imposition (or rather the lack of it) is probably the best explanation for my lapses in the art of domestic science. Until lately, the clutter hasn’t disturbed me; I’ve been oblivious to its ceaseless encroachment. My ignorance has continued until I’ve run out of empty space and my piles have reached heights that threaten their stability. Only now have I come to believe I have a problem.

As I finally acknowledge my oblivion and it’s consequences, I come to realize I must become proactive. The first step is to identify and accept my disability. I now do that. I admit I am, in politically correct terms, domestically challenged. With this in mind, I am left with two options: either overcome my handicap, or hire a contractor to build an addition to my home. I can’t afford the latter. Therefore, I must overcome. I must use every method I can to regain control of my home.

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