COVID Cleaning

A collector declutters and discovers wonders in the junk drawer

| 22 Jul 2020 | 03:48

Behold the wonder of the junk drawer.

Like many people around the world, I used my quarantine shelter-inside time to clean my closets, drawers and file cabinets of clutter. After all, they’ve been overstocked and overlooked for years. It was a chore that was too overwhelming.

Until recently.

Being stuck in my small apartment for four-plus months with little to do (most of my freelance writing work has dried up), I had lots of time on my hands. You can only bake so many banana breads, do so many puzzles and Zoom for so many hours. So, I began to tackle the insurmountable task of discarding and organizing my stuff.

The fun began when I started finding decades’ worth of history, making the process not only nostalgic but even slightly lucrative.

File cabinet number one housed dozens of fold-out maps (remember them?) from past vacations. As I tossed, I armchair-traveled up and down both coasts, from Maine to Florida and throughout California. I meandered through Rome, Paris, London and Venice.

I found bank deposit slips since 2004 and receipts detailing my CVS purchases since the last century. There were holiday photo cards from people I don’t remember.

I uncovered phone directories from my two sons’ elementary schools (they are now 25 and 30) and a well-worn list of babysitters (who are probably now hiring ones for their own kids). There was a scribbled IOU from a mom who still owes me hundreds of dollars from an after school class 18 years ago, with the words: “More to come!” It never came. (If you’re reading this Alisa, you know you still owe me.)

Collector’s Item?

The kitchen junk drawer spewed stacks of take-out menus for once favorite Upper West Side restaurants: Artie’s, Savann, Miss Ellie’s and other spots that still make my mouth water remembering the great dishes I once ordered.

The treasures continued: a lifetime certificate for one free annual seat for my son at Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus in honor of their 125th birthday (too bad; they’re now out of business); my kids’ first bank books (for closed accounts); an arm’s-length of prize tickets from Lazer Tag (long shuttered); and a NYC subway map with the World Trade Center still on it (a collector’s item perhaps?).

Another file cabinet revealed a sticky Dunkin Donuts card with 77 cents remaining. And the best discovery - two unused $25 Zabar’s gift certificates from a 2005 P.S. 166 school auction. The store happily honored them without blinking at the date.

Day after day I filled garbage bags with movie stubs, clipped recipes, expired coupons, yellowed articles and cookie fortunes predicting my successful future. Out went a collection of parenting magazines from the ‘90s, my old Boarders and Blockbuster membership cards and gift certificates for departed neighborhood stores (Alphabets, Granny Made and the original Shakespeare books).

Then the tooth fairy showed up. Tucked away in a dresser drawer was a note she once wrote complimenting my son on the good job he had done brushing, and eight still-crisp dollar bills. (Yes, I gave them to my grown son.)

I still have a few shelves and a closet to deal with, but I now have a clean desk I can actually use and files that are organized and accessible. Sorry Marie Kondo, I didn’t thank the clutter for its service, but most of the things I discarded did not spark joy. The whole process was definitely freeing and at least some good came from being stuck inside.

I can’t say I’ve reformed from a saver to a purger, but I’m on the way to recovery.

Bethany Kandel is an Upper West Side journalist and author. Follow her on Instagram @Awaywithbethany

There are many benefits of cleaning out your cutter, including getting things into the hands of people who want or need them and keeping useful item out of landfills. I believe in donating rather than throwing out. In the process, you’re helping both your community and the earth by recycling, reusing and repurposing.
But in these strange times, it can be difficult to find a new home for your castoffs. Check if your local thrift shop or Goodwill currently welcomes donations and if they’re doing pickups. Libraries will soon reopen and many accept used books. Churches and synagogues may accept clothing.
If it’s hard to part with something, take photos first.
What else can you do with your unwanted stuff?
· Offer items for free or a small fee on Craigslist, Nextdoor or Facebook’s “Buy Nothing Project” and offer contactless pickup.
· Offer to swap with a friend.
· Leave outside on a stoop in a “FREE” box. If retrieving an item, do a thorough cleaning once you get it home.
· Prepare packages of items your neighbors might like. I’ve packaged craft supplies and left them for those with young kids in the lobby of my building with a sign that says “From a virus-free home.” People have also been leaving books, games and puzzles near the mailboxes so others can enjoy.