The closer we get to the New Year, the more wound up I get. This is partly because I'm a summer person, and I need things to do during the dreary, cold, wet, dark days of winter. I'd rather do house-related projects now so that when summer comes back, we can take off for the beach. Another factor is that when we receive gifts, sometimes space needs to be created so they have somewhere to go. One of the things I do in the last week of the year is a perimeter check of my house, garage, and yard. It's part of my closing of the metaphorical books for the year.
My dog Spike is an American Rat Terrier. That's a "vigilant" breed. It means he barks when someone comes to the door, sure. It also means that he gets up periodically and checks around the back yard. He cruises around every room of the house at least once a day, even in the dark. This is part of how he finds every single crumb of bird kibble that hits the floor, and eats it, even if it's basically microscopic and burns more calories to find than it contains. It's his job. I call him Roomba Two. In his doggy brain, two or three minutes of snuffling and looking around helps to ensure that all is well in our world. No wolves, no pumas, no hidden dog treats. Okay then. At least once a year, I can be like my little buddy Spike and check all the nooks and crannies. In fact, he always goes with me, because you never know when a bucket of racquetballs might pop out.
My goal is to glance at every single item in our home for at least a nanosecond. I'm just walking around, opening cabinets and drawers and looking at what's in them. I'm going for a big picture, negative space kind of scan. What stands out? Is there a creak? Is a drawer or a door sticking? Am I seeing sawdust or a water leak or cobwebs or a trail of insects or a forgotten bag of moldy potatoes? When I open a door, does a scary smell waft out? Does this area look orderly or messy? Would I be comfortable sharing a photo of it or would I want to manipulate the scene a bit first?
I do like to clean the entire house top to bottom before the New Year, partly for good luck, but mostly so that I can lounge around and be a total hedonist on New Year's Day. 1/1 is just for fun! The perimeter check is done before the cleaning, in case I spot something that needs extra work or in case I spill something.
One room per day is plenty. There's no hurry. Since I do this exercise at least once a year, there's never really all that much to do. I keep in mind that I've already moved something like 28 times as an adult, and that anything I get rid of now means one less box to move next time. You're welcome, Future Me.
I look around the living room, asking myself whether any of the furniture or artwork has had its day. Right now there is a compatibility issue with the Roomba and our one end table, and I make a note to figure out how to raise the legs a quarter inch. I look at the books and DVDs and ask whether we are going to consume them or whether they've passed their use-by date.
I go into the bathroom, looking at all the bottles in the shower and asking whether they are getting used. I look at everything in the medicine cabinet, checking expiration dates, since I know someone who was hospitalized from expired anti-inflammatories once. I crouch down and open the cabinet under the sink, looking at all the cleansers and asking whether I use them all. Are we running low on anything? I throw out the old sponge. I open the drawers and look over all my little travel bottles, throwing away stretched-out hair elastics and broken hair clips.
I go into the bedroom. I open the closet and start with the top shelf. Am I wearing all these clothes? The end of a season is the best time to purge the past season's clothes. I ask myself whether I really think I'll be wearing these sundresses, tank tops, shorts, and sandals next summer. Three years is about the amount of wear I tend to get out of clothes before they start getting threadbare. My closet rod is only four feet long, so there's a constant process of examining what's on the hangers and making it fight for its place. My real problem area is with my collection of athletic shoes. I am really tough on shoes, since I walk three to six miles a day, even in Vegas when I'm wearing rhinestone heels. It's hard for me to say goodbye to my running shoes or hiking boots even when layers of the soles have worn off and you can almost poke your finger through them. Like other people, I keep things in my bedroom closet that are not clothes, such as my yoga mat and my race medals. I force myself every year to look at these objects and consider whether they are still relevant to my life. For instance, there's a buckwheat travel pillow in there that I really don't use.
I go into the office. Out of all the rooms in our house, this is the most stuff-saturated. Most of what's in here represents information, and it can be hard to assess and make decisions. Two bookshelves! A box of paper files! Our desktop computer is nearly eight years old, and the peripherals are, too. We're considering all our storage media, like CDs, thumb drives, and the external hard drive, and imagining what we're likely to be using in another eight years. Most likely it will all be cloud storage. I've been scanning my paper files and notebooks all year. Still, this room is a complicated one. Since we share the desktop and the file box, we'll spend a few hours together going through everything and deleting or shredding as needed. I see that I'm close to being able to downsize one bookcase, and I plan to do that at our next move.
I go into the kitchen. This is complicated in different ways than the office. Not so much information in here, but I love to cook and I was once obsessed with obtaining every possible kitchen gadget and small appliance. I even have a restaurant-grade French fry cutter. There are two areas to assess: the food and the utensils. I try to have everything in the fridge and freezer consumed by New Year's Eve so that we can start the New Year with a totally clean fridge. Nothing scary left over from who knows when. Right now there are three bottles of salad dressing, a jar and a half of capers, and two jars of mustard, so this should be interesting! I'm also looking at everything in the pantry and targeting anything that is almost used up. I plan recipes around these ingredients. Again, I want to make sure we're getting our money's worth out of what we spend on groceries, and that we're not wasting food. Overbuying is wasting.
I go out to the garage. I want to turn right around and go out again. I have a resolution to clear up the garage in 2017, and I want to keep this fresh in my mind. A job of great magnitude! It's not that bad, not really. We can and do actually use the workbench, and I work out on the elliptical out here several days a week. But there are a half-dozen storage shelves full of stuff we rarely or never use. It's time to process it and figure out whether we're really going to keep hauling it around for another eight years. It's about two orders of magnitude bigger than the old desktop computer, so this is a decision with impact. It's also a huge favor we can do for Future Us. The next time we move, we'll be high-fiving and laughing.
We'll go through our earthquake supplies together. Time to swap out the water jugs and rotate the emergency food in our go bags.
I look around the front and back yard. Uh-oh, the leaves on the rose bush are turning yellow. I'm looking for anything out of place or anything that is not turning out to be as weather-proof as I might have thought. I also like to look at all the windows and the fence and see if anything is going on. We're renters, but I still like including the structure and landscaping in my perimeter check. It helps me to feel like I have an accurate mental picture of where we live. Any surprises in our life should not be coming from the house itself.
One thing I pick up from my perimeter check is that I'm really a pretty good housekeeper. Even my baseboards are dusted. "Clean the entire house top to bottom" is going to be a matter of about two hours, and that's the once-yearly deep clean. The main thing I'm noticing is how many of our belongings really represent a data stream, such as books and CDs, that can now be digitized. How much of our stuff is useful and how much is just there because we don't really notice it anymore? How much more do we really need than a soup pot, a couch, and wi-fi? Does our home environment reflect the way we actually live, the way we wish we lived, or both?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.