Creative Nonfiction Funny Happy

   I should’ve known better. There is a fundamental, unspoken rule of household maintenance that every mother knows. I knew The Rule, but I broke it. My intentions were good, but since I ignored The Rule, I deserved and accepted the consequences.

   See, my family had a problem. Somehow over the years, our home had mysteriously accumulated an alarming amount of stuff that qualified us as prime candidates for a hoarding intervention. After perusing websites featuring supernaturally organized spaces where no human actually lived, I became starstruck with unrealistic expectations and decided to take matters into my own hands. In other words, the spring-cleaning bug bit me, hard. I tingled with motivation and determination to declutter my house. I craved that sweet release; the sheer satisfaction that can only be achieved through the art of the perfect purge. 

   However, in my excitement, I forgot The Rule: Never attempt to declutter a house when people are actually present in that house. It won’t work! (You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Remember that time you tried to throw out your kid’s toothbrush and she cried for a week after she found it in the trash?) 

   If I’d followed The Rule, this would be a delightful, award-winning, story of how I conquered clutter and saved the world’s nakedness problem by donating a box of outgrown items to charity. Instead, this is the story of the time I broke The Rule and failed to fill a box with outgrown items for charity. 

   The morning of the purge started with a large, cardboard box and the word, “DONATE”, written in black, stinky marker on the side. And a cat. (Wait. What?) After I removed the cat, Barnaby, from the box, I dropped in my daughter’s outgrown soccer cleats. Dusting off my hands, I felt the triumph…the victory! One less thing to clutter up my ultimate vision of a spotless, pristine house. 

   Feeling that “spring cleaning vibe”, I opened the windows and turned on some hard-core, head-banging, motivation. That’s right—Disney music. As I danced and sang along with an utterly delightful clean-up song, I ventured into my husband’s closet for a stack of raggedy, old t-shirts he’d said he wanted to donate. 

   With my arms full of holey, sweat-stained shirts that any naked person would be honored to wear, I sang along with Mary Poppins about spoonfuls of sugar and danced to the box. My daughter, Rylee, blocked my path and frowned down at the discarded cleats. I watched as she leaned over and took out her outgrown soccer cleats. Barnaby must’ve been watching, too; he immediately jumped back in the newly emptied box.

   “MOM! These are the cleats I wore when I (something something soccer words).” 

   “But, they’re too sm…” My voice trailed off. Helplessly, I watched her scamper back to her room; cleats in hand. 

   Okay, no problem. I shook it off; proud of her for responsibly putting the shoes away where they belonged. After all, the cleats only took up a little space in Rylee’s closet. I had bigger fish to fry and plenty of other things to donate. Like, the raggedy old shirts I dropped on top of the cat.

   Barnaby jumped out of the box and scowled at me after being pummeled by the shirt avalanche. I fist-pumped the air and congratulated myself; happy to get those shirts out of the way. 

   Disney’s Elsa sang about letting it go, and it seemed to fit the situation. So, I sang along and danced into the kitchen. After a near-fatal Tupperware encounter, I bandaged my head and found a few things to add to the donation box. I discovered a neglected electric skillet we’d used one time four years ago, and about fifty plastic lids that didn’t fit anything. As I ventured toward the box with my arms overflowing (leaving a trail of plastic lids in my wake), I caught sight of my husband; headed toward our bedroom—carrying the shirts from the donation box. 

   The cat jumped out of the box just in time to avoid being slapped by a rogue plastic lid. I emptied my armload of unused kitchen items before I followed my husband.

   “Hello, my darling true love and handsome life-partner. I’m spring cleaning. Didn’t you want to donate those shirts?”

   “These great workout shirts?” He put his hand to his heart and looked at me as if I’d suggested he slaughter an infant. “I can’t get rid of these.” To close the issue, my 6’2” husband stuffed the shirts in the very, top of the closet; beyond my 5’ self’s reach. 

   It wasn’t a total loss, though because I discovered a dusty, stuffed bear in our closet and a stack of dusty old books to donate. As long as they took their allergy medicine, someone would be grateful to find these. Thinking happy cleaning thoughts, I sang along to, “Hi, Ho”, sneezed out a nose full of dust, and marched back to the box. 

   Barnaby stared up at me from his new favorite spot. He saw me and skedaddled before I dropped the books and bear into the box. Hmmm…what happened to the electric skillet and the lids?

   A weird sound came from the living room. Being somewhat used to weird sounds, due to the presence of children in my home, I felt no panic or dismay. Upon investigation of the sound, I discovered my younger daughter, Haven, leapfrog-sliding from plastic lid to plastic lid across our hardwood floor. (Shloop shhh shhh shloop shhh shhh) Who could blame her? It looked like fun and besides, I’d left a lovely layer of lily pad lids for her to leap. She giggled and grinned at me with a chocolate-covered mouth, took a bite of the peanut butter cup in her hand, and leaped her tiny, bare foot to the next lid (Shloop shhh). The trail she built from the lids she rescued from the donation box, led down the hallway to the playroom. 

   “By the way, Mom, you should ask someone before getting rid of their birthday present, you know.” (Shloop shhh). 

   Oh, yeah.

   The electric skillet that was mysteriously absent from the donation box had been her fourth birthday present. All she ate that entire year was chocolate chip pancakes. With fantasies of family-created, daily, delicious, homemade pancakes; we gave her the skillet. I used it the morning after her birthday. Then, she switched to frozen waffles and we never used the skillet again. 

   I opened my mouth to ask Haven about the location of the electric skillet, but I sneezed instead. And sneezed again. By then, my little frog had disappeared into the playroom.

   After sneezing three more times, I closed the windows and attempted to walk to the playroom. 

By that I mean I took a few steps, slipped on one of the plastic lids (“they’re lily pads, Mom”), and landed flat on my back. This is where most sane people would’ve given up, but not me. I listened as, Hercules sang and encouraged me to, “Go the Distance”. Painfully, I got back up and limped to the playroom. 

   Deep inside the dark depths of the playroom closet, I discovered a garbage bag full of dress-up clothes. My children were small for their ages, so at 8 and 11, they physically fit in the dress-up clothes; but I was confident they’d emotionally outgrown them. I pulled out a bedazzled, princess dress just as the song, “Remember Me,” began. 

   “Remember how cute she was in this at that party? They grow up so fast.” My Nostalgic Shoulder Angel appeared and reminded me it’s ok to cry. 

   “NO!” I yelled and the Nostalgic Shoulder Angel careened into a box of unused LEGO below. “Alexa. Turn off!” As I stomped back to the donation box, I crammed the dress into the bag. 

   Barnaby saw me coming and escaped the empty box just before I tossed the bag in it. At this point, I didn’t even remember what I’d put in the box last time. I cracked my back, sneezed, and realized my nose was stuffy. That reminded me of the dusty books and bear that were suspiciously MIA from the donation box. 

   “Do you smell something burning?” My husband asked as he passed by with an armload of dusty books.

   “I think it’s dust. My nose is stuffy.” I sneezed. 

   On my way to the girls’ bedroom, I passed the kitchen where both of my children were engulfed in some sort of messy project. (Is that flour on the ceiling?) Refusing to be deterred from my ultimate decluttering plan, I decided not to interrupt them. I did notice, however, that Rylee had the dusty bear. It was affixed to her middle with a belt like a baby sling. Shaking my head in bewilderment, I trudged toward my intended destination.

   The girls’ closet was one of the more organized places in my house. For practical reasons, I kept their clothes arranged by style and size. I recycled clothes in and out of their closet on a regular basis, so I didn’t expect to find much to donate in there. Also, if any of my family’s hoarding issues were due to me, it would be revealed through my tendency to hang on to their girly clothes. Not the clothes they actually wore; but the clothes I wanted them to wear. 

   I’ll admit it. As soon as I found out they were girls, I clapped and giggled with glee at the thought of the frilly dresses, sparkly shoes, and giant hair bows I’d force them…I mean allow them to wear. Kids wear what their parents tell them to wear, right? Ha! That’s one of those things people say before they actually have children of their own. 

   My ideas of bows and bonnets were blown away on Rylee’s second Easter when she refused to wear the dresses I’d bought her. She was polite about it as she ignored my attempts at persuasion and put on her favorite one-piece swimsuit. I’d read somewhere that if I worded it a certain way, she’d have to choose one of the options I gave her.

   “Do you want to wear the pink dress or the yellow dress, Rylee?”

   “No, thank you.” She slid her tiny toes into a pair of plastic play shoes, grabbed her Easter basket and waited by the door for us to catch up with her plan.

   Of course, I saved those dresses for Haven, but she wouldn’t wear them, either. 

   “Too itchy,” she said. 

   I’d passed the itchy dresses on to our nieces a long time ago, so I searched for any other outgrown item I could find. Grabbing a worn out t-shirt dress, I headed back to the donation box.

   My nose unclogged just in time to smell the smoke. The smoke alarm started beeping. 

   “I’ve got it!” My husband opened windows and turned on fans. 

   “We burnt a few.” Rylee emerged from the smoke-filled kitchen wearing a tiara and fairy wings. She held a plate of burnt pancakes and a magic wand. 

   I felt something get snatched out of my arms.

   “That’s my naked dress! It’s so soft it makes me feel naked!” Haven yelled back at me as she tossed the dress in her room. She reappeared moments later and I saw that she was wearing a pink sparkly dress and bunny ears from the dress up bag. 

   My husband emerged from the smoky kitchen with a tutu on his head and clip-on princess earrings. He handed me a plate of not-as-burnt pancakes and turned to Haven.

   “Let me show you how to unplug the electric skillet.” He gently ushered our tiny frog/bunny/princess into the kitchen for a quick safety lesson.

   This is where I finally admitted defeat and gave up on my dreams of a decluttered home. I moved Rylee’s outgrown cleats off the couch and sat down with my pancakes. Tears rolled down my face as I chewed. 

   “Mom? Why are you crying?” Haven skipped over with a bracelet she put on my foot.

   “I worked so hard all day and accomplished nothing. What’s worse is that I missed out on playing with y’all.” By this point, I was ugly-crying out of frustration and exhaustion; but I didn’t stop eating. Rylee wiped away my tears and drew a smile on my cheek with lipstick. 

   “Look on the bright side. You found a cardboard box to donate.” My husband attached a superhero cape to my shoulders and gestured toward the box. Barnaby meowed at us from inside the box and curled into a ball to sleep. 

   “Nope! You can’t donate that box!” 

   With the stinky, black marker, Rylee scratched out the word on the box. In large letters, she wrote, B-A-R-N-A-B-Y.

   And we all lived clutter-fully and (mostly) happily ever after.


April 01, 2022 18:06

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K. Antonio
13:26 Apr 06, 2022

Haha, I agree with JC, this was mad fun! As a single dude who lives alone, I declutter anything and everything with very little concern. The humor was on point! The introduction and the narrative voice right from the beginning was curious and appealing, I wanted to know more from the get-go. I thought this was a brilliant use of the prompt.


Sharon Hancock
01:12 Apr 07, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and for your kind comments! The struggle against clutter is real!😂


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Zack Powell
02:41 Apr 03, 2022

I watched two Disney movies today, so I feel qualified to share my thoughts on this! (God, Disney songs are SO good, aren't they?) This is, quite literally, every experience I've had with cleaning. Except I don't have a spouse or children, so I'm both the narrator and the guy who wants to keep the junk in the house. And lemme tell you, you really got the sentiment of this situation down to a T. You didn't even need the nonfiction tag because I felt like you knew exactly the feeling of trying (and failing) to declutter. 😂 The little girls we...


Sharon Hancock
01:39 Apr 04, 2022

😂we have upgraded to 3 cats and at least 10 boxes now. Cats love a cardboard box it’s the cutest and weirdest thing . The little daughter is 17 now and I think she still has the skillet although I haven’t seen it since that day I tried to get rid of it. Thanks so much for reading and for your fantastic encouragement as always 😻


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Riel Rosehill
08:24 Apr 07, 2022

Oh, this was wholesome, and so fun to read! I think I needed a lighthearted story like this :D I can relate SO MUCH to trying to declutter/tidy and just making the mess even bigger at the end... it's a thing, and I can't even blame that on family, LOL. As soon as you said Disney songs I immediately thought, "Let it Go" would be a great declutter song - I was so happy when that was the first you mentioned, haha. I can also relate to every single character in this story. Like, this is exactly what I'm like, trying to declutter and getting dist...


Sharon Hancock
01:24 Apr 08, 2022

Thanks so much for reading and for your kind comments. We all find such awesome fun stuff we forgot about when we declutter. 😂


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Lavonne H.
21:25 Apr 05, 2022

Oh, Sharon! At first, it was going to be the usual 'donation' story. And then you broke 'The Rule' and it became this topsy-turvy, absolutely delightful story of good finds for the box and many hands removing those finds. Everyone in the family had a story about favourite items that were not going back into the box. Even your husband's pithy remark--" "Look on the bright side. You found a cardboard box to donate.”' had me in stitches. (I am so relieved that Barnaby wasn't donated.) I would like to recommend your stories to all of us who deal...


Sharon Hancock
01:00 Apr 06, 2022

As always, your comments made my day! Thank you for reading. My cats love cardboard boxes so much. I wouldn’t donate a kitty. It’s much more likely that I’d come home with another one.😂


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Kelsey H
08:02 Apr 03, 2022

This is so funny, I love your humour and how you describe the chaos of trying to tidy up while your children are in the house. I went through this stage of being obsessed with Instagram minimalist accounts where they have like 4 plates and 2 spoons, and trying and failing to recreate the same in my house, so I feel your pain there. Such a cute ending too with the cat.


Sharon Hancock
01:13 Apr 04, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and for your kind comments. Pinterest is my nemesis 😂 they show these beautifully organized closets with labeled bins and I always have stuff that just won’t go in those blasted bins. 😻


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Mike Panasitti
23:07 Apr 02, 2022

Sharon, this was a great bundle of benign dysfunctionality, playful seriousness, and joyfully berserko domesticity--all set to a background of Disney music favorites. I enjoyed this read.


Sharon Hancock
01:50 Apr 03, 2022

😂yep! Accurate description of our life when the kids were little. Innocent chaos . Thanks so much for reading and commenting!


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J.C. Lovero
12:24 Apr 02, 2022

Hi Sharon! What a funny, wholesome story you have here! I admit that decluttering is one of my FAVORITE past times, but I live alone so I get to discard with reckless abandon LOLOL. You really set the stage nicely with the Disney music playing in the background. I immediately went to Elsa singing let it go, and the child inside me screamed when the song actually played for your narrator. The family is just hilarious, as well. I can picture the chaos at the end with the smoke alarm, burned pancakes, and everyone dressed up as cartoon cha...


Sharon Hancock
02:21 Apr 03, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. My older daughter is almost 21 and, with tears in her eyes and trauma in her voice, she can still tell me the exact date and what I was wearing on the day, 17 years ago, when I donated several of her unloved stuffed animals . 😂 (I’m exaggerating but only a little). I also love decluttering! It’s so freeing.😻


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