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Hurricane Ike: How I Found a Silver Lining in My Own Refrigerator

This is NOT Gayle's refrigerator.Hurricane Ike was quite an experience! I am still trying to get back on an even keel since the storm tore through the Houston area in mid-September. I was without power for 15 days. I had to sleep on the living room floor to escape the roar of my neighbor’s gasoline-powered generator, and because most of my clients were also without power, all my appointments were canceled for three weeks. But I eventually found a silver lining in this dark cloud: a fresh perspective on the benefits of organizing.

Like many of my clients, friends, and neighbors, after about four days I found myself emptying my refrigerator and freezer of their spoiled contents. I had done a good job of using up fresh food as Ike approached, and didn’t buy any more in the days leading up to the storm. But my emergency ice chest could only hold so much, and I ended up filling many trash bags with thawed food from the freezer, jars of condiments, dressings, and sauces, and open bottles and packages of all kinds. I cleaned the fridge as if I were moving out of the house and leaving it for the new owner. Then I pulled the fridge out from the wall to unplug it, and it sat there empty for the next 10 days.

It was strange to walk back and forth in front of that refrigerator with its doors propped open and nothing inside. It was perfectly clean and shiny and looked totally barren. But every time I walked by, I wondered what I would buy first when the power came back on. What about mayo and maybe some eggs? Should I buy butter and cheese? Maybe I would try a new type of salsa….

At some point, it dawned on me that I could fill it with whatever I wanted. When the power returned and the fridge was cold again, I could fill that fridge with only those things that I liked and wanted in there. I had cleared out all the old and was ready to replace it with exactly what I wanted in my fridge now. My empty, unplugged refrigerator was a blank slate of possibility—just like many of the Clutter Fairy jobs I do every day.

What a fine metaphor my refrigerator is for the declutterizing process. Everything I removed from my fridge has a parallel in what I discover as I clear out a cluttered space. There were jars I had opened eons ago and never finished off. There were things I used every day, like the Brita water pitcher and a bottle of Diet Coke. In the freezer, there was an old box of frozen chicken that had been shipped to me as a gift. There were supplies of foods that I no longer eat and leftovers that had been shoved to the back and forgotten. Like any space in your house, my refrigerator contained things I desired once but no longer liked, things that were used up or spoiled, gifts I had never wanted, and useful stuff I needed every day. There were experiments that didn’t work out and things that had gotten lost in the back. There were even hidden treasures—like the bag of Lindt chocolate truffles I rescued from oblivion!

I took delight in replenishing the newly cool refrigerator with my favorite cheese and new jars of mayo, mustard, and salad dressing. I restocked my favorite drinks, too, and refilled the Brita. When I was done, there was still a lot of space free, and I could easily see everything I had added. The fridge was clean and beautiful. It felt like I’d made a fresh start in life.

Clearing clutter can give you a blank slate. It can let you start over with a space that’s clean, fresh, and exactly how you like it. It’s an amazing experience to remake your space. Can’t imagine clearing the clutter in a room of your house? Want to see what it feels like? Clean out your refrigerator completely. Fill it with exactly and only what you want, and see how that feels to you. When you’re ready to take the next step, you’ll be surprised how much like cleaning the fridge clearing out a room of your house can be!

This article was featured in our October 2008 e-mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the “Subscribe” form, above right.

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