Cheryl Hughes: System
The Christmas holidays are the only thing that will make me get rid of stuff I don’t really use or need. Every year as the time fast approaches, I gather, sort, load into my car no-longer-useful items and head to the thrift store. I engage in this ritual in order to make room for Christmas guests, as well as to make room for more stuff I will receive this Christmas that will no longer be useful next Christmas. It is the circle of my life.
There are times when I venture into my husband, Garey’s, shop in order to find something for some project I’m working on. When I do, it’s clear he lives within that same circle—a swirling vortex of stuff I have to pick my way through in order to get to what I need. Amazingly though, there are little points of order everywhere: wrenches in graduated sizes hanging from peg boards, wood working tools all living together on one rolling cart, drawers of screw drivers, hammers and chisels neatly organized in a large red tool box.
I understand this incongruous system. Because of time restraints, it is a pick-and-choose world. We have to focus on what matters, but the rub is in the fact that what matters to Garey might not matter to Cheryl and vice versa. From time to time, I stumble upon this opposition of priorities, and I choose to work around it or at least, within the parameters of it, like the time Garey volunteered to help me clean the house for company then scrubbed on the utility room sink for 45 minutes until it gleamed—a sink in which we pour dirty mop water and wash mud from our shoes. But hey, it looked really good when he finished, unlike the kitchen sink and guest bathroom sink, which got a quick once-over as our guests were pulling into the driveway.
A couple of weeks ago, Garey called me from the kitchen to our bedroom closet.
“You’re messing up my system,” he said.
The thing you have to understand about our bedroom closet is at first glance, you realize one corner of the Bermuda Triangle runs through it. The word “system” is not a word that comes to mind upon entering. It is a haphazard grouping of shoes and clothing—there are coats hanging back there that are old enough to vote—and items that have nothing to do with a clothes closet. Boxes of vintage Ninja Turtles, Simpsons movie Santa hats, and three sets of masks and snorkels live on the shelves on my side. Garey’s side has plastic bins of eye care, socks and underwear, a brief case, a gazillion caps, a Marlboro Man sign and a Copenhagen spittoon—he doesn’t smoke or dip. You can imagine my confusion when Garey told me I was messing up his system.
“Do you see these wire hangers?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered simply, leaving out the part about them being the bane of my existence.
“They go to the right,” he continued. “The plastic hangers go to the left. You keep hanging the plastic hangers in the middle of the wire hangers, and when I get ready to gather the wire hangers to take them back to the uniform people, I always have to pick out the plastic ones first.”
“Okay,” I say, “I’ll try to be more careful.”
I returned to the kitchen chiding myself for not noticing this system before. I’ve always prided myself on sensing things that are important to others. It is a coping mechanism I developed as a child, living with unpredictable adults. Garey’s system is an efficient one. I will honor it.
The closet incident reminded me that we all need of a bit of order, no matter how insignificant that system might seem to someone else. Wire hangers to the right, plastic hangers to the left might be the one thing keeping Garey from going over the edge. I’m not going to take any chances.