When my wife moved into my apartment three and a half years ago I said to my mother, “If we survive this process we’ll probably get married.” Whenever two people begin the nitty-gritty of becoming a couple the sparks will fly.
Over the years Annie accumulated stuff – lots of stuff. When she moved into my apartment she brought all of it with her. During our first weeks of cohabitation I couldn’t find a place to sit. Annie’s things took up every square inch of room. I’m not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination but the clutter was giving me anxiety attacks. Collected from her many travels to France, Italy, Russia, World Market and Home Goods, Annie had formed an emotional attachment to her possessions. So whenever I said, “Do you really need this shit?’ she’d usually respond, “You like your stuff. Why don’t you like mine?”
Moi? I never had much stuff. Whenever I moved I managed to pack everything into a van. Now life with Annie was awfully crowded. While most couples fight about money or sex Annie and I always fight about clutter. She tolerates it. I hate it. I finally blew my stack when she brought home an old Singer sewing machine complete with a cabinet and seat.
“What in the name of God are you going to do with that thing?’ I yelled.
“I like to sew.”
“It’s going to rot on our porch. You’ll never use it!”
“It only cost twenty dollars.”
“I’ll give you thirty dollars to throw it out.”
My prediction was right. Annie never used the sewing machine. It gathered dust for three years and became the lodestone of all my clutter angst. Whenever we argued about housekeeping issues I’d always bring up the sewing machine.
“I bought two chairs for the living room,” she once said, triumphantly dragging in her latest “discovery.”
“We don’t need any chairs,” I said, surveying our cramped living room.
“Sure we do. What if we have guests?”
“I’ll make you a deal. Get rid of the sewing machine and you can have the chairs.”
“I’ll make you a deal. “ I’ll keep the chairs and the sewing machine and you can shut the fuck up.”
It was then I realized that Annie was always going to be a pack rat and, if I wanted to build a life with her, I was going to have to make some mental accommodations. Besides, I was winner in this deal. Annie is beautiful, smart, funny, kind, a good cook and a positive person. Why she married a cranky, overweight stick in the mud like me is beyond my comprehension. While we still fight over her stuff, I decided clutter would never be a deal breaker. You have to love people as they are, not how you want them to be. We survived the process and got married. But when it came time to move into our new home, we had to revisit the subject of Annie’s stuff.
“It can’t all go with you,” I said. “The house is too small.”
“We have a garage and a basement!” Annie said. “We have plenty of room.”
“And you’ll fill them to the brim,” I said. “I love you, but I have to put my foot down.”
So we had a garage sale and Annie agreed to part with her sewing machine for fifty dollars. I hate running garage sales because they attract wackos. During my parents’ garage sale twenty years ago the first guy who showed up asked, “Are you selling any guns? Nazi stuff? SS Daggers? ” My dad chased him away. While we didn’t have any guys trying to buy weapons on the cheap, Annie and I encountered people who thought they were in a Middle Eastern Bazaar.
Sweating under the blazing sun, I rebuffed legions of oddballs offering ten cents on items priced for two dollars. “I’d rather give it to the Goodwill” was my standard reply. To Annie’s surprise I took firm control of the garage sale, shamed the cheapskates, haggled for reasonable offers and managed to offload a good chunk of our stock. An old lady even bought the sewing machine stand and chair for fifteen bucks. I couldn’t sell her the actual machine. “I already have three,” she said. Hoarders of the world unite.
Near the end of the sale we were inundated with customers, figuring we’d be tired and sell everything for a song. That’s when a lady with an avaricious gleam in her eye asked about the sewing machine.
“Forty bucks,” I said.
“I can only afford to give you ten,” she said.
The machine was plugged in so I turned it on. “See, it works fine. All metal. Made in England. You can’t find these anymore.”
“Ten,” the lady repeated.
“Sorry, but no.” The lady walked away in a snit. Five minutes later she came back.
“Fifteen,” she said.
“Lady, I’ll give it to you for thirty. Final price.”
The woman caved and opened her purse. When she handed me three tens I spied several $100 dollar bills in her wallet. Pleading poverty my ass.
Sale ended, I grabbed a beer and lit up a cigar. Annie, who had taken a break from the heat, came back outside, amazed to find her sewing machine was gone.
“You wanted fifty,” I said, “I sold the stand for $15 and the machine for $30. So you made a $25 profit.”
“I had no idea you were such a good salesman.”
“You forget dear,” I said. “I used to be a waiter. Unloading overpriced crap on people was my specialty.”
Despite the garage sale, when moving day came, we filled a large truck to capacity. “How the hell did you cram all that into a small two bedroom apartment?” my landlord said, looking at the truck in awe.
“It wasn’t easy,” I said, handing him the keys.
Annie and I are now in our new house. Half our stuff is in boxes and our garage is packed to the rafters. As the months go by we’ll sort it all out. Until then I’ll just have to make peace with disorder. I owe my wife that much. The junk I brought into our marriage was just as messy, large and infuriating – it just didn’t take up physical space. Annie has dealt with my stuff with unwavering patience and love. I’m a lucky guy.
But I’m happy that damn sewing machine is gone.