DECLUTTERING • by David Kesmodel

On a bright April morning, Paul Cromartie watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo for the umpteenth time. He decided it would be the last.

He canceled his Netflix account, unplugged his television, and placed it by the door. Someone would buy it off Craigslist.

Pausing in the living room on his way to the shower, Paul admired the bare, eggshell-colored walls of his Chicago apartment. The anxiety he’d felt after being laid off at thirty had begun to fade with each possession he discarded. He was nearing his goal of having fewer than one hundred things. Yet difficult decisions remained.

He washed his body and hair with a sliver of Irish Spring. He’d eliminated shampoo from his possession list. “Shampoo is for suckers,” he’d joked to his girlfriend, who didn’t laugh.

Dressing for brunch, Paul chose one of the six shirts that, in Kondo parlance, brought him joy.

Claire strolled into the apartment at ten on the nose and swung her head around. “Jesus, Paul. At this rate, there won’t be anything for us to do here besides have sex.”

At the café down the street, Paul wriggled in his chair as he looked at Claire. She was five years his elder and radiant. She’d just finished her MBA at Northwestern and was interviewing with prestigious consulting firms. But as she described each opportunity, Paul concentrated instead on the crow’s feet around her eyes. They were the only flaw he’d found.

“How are the vegan pancakes?” she asked.

“A bit dry.”

“Bummer. This bacon’s the bomb.”

Paul fiddled with the straw in his iced coffee. “Listen, we need to talk.”

Claire dropped her fork. “I knew it.”

“Knew what?”

“I didn’t make the list. Your hundred things.”

“I didn’t say that.” Paul ran his hands through his hair. “It’s just, with everything changing —
losing my job, going minimalist — I think I need to be alone.”

Claire stood. “Walk me to your place, please. I’d like to get my things.”

Paul kept his distance while she collected her makeup kit and her backup hair dryer. He felt a pang of sadness as she reached for a pair of fuzzy socks that he’d given her on one of their ski trips to Michigan, where she’d taught him to conquer moguls.

“I’m ready to be dropped off, Paul.”

“Dropped off where?”

“Goodwill. Obviously, I’m clutter. So, let’s go.”

“You’re serious?”

“I couldn’t be more so.”

They said nothing on the drive. At the sprawling store with the big blue-and-white sign, Claire gave Paul a tepid kiss.

“I guess that’s it?”

“I’ll give you an hour, Paul. If you don’t come back to claim me, well, I guess I’ll have to find somebody who will.”

He watched her vanish through the rotating glass. Gripping the wheel, he imagined how time would expand for him in the weeks ahead. He’d tour the best bars on the north side with his buddies, savoring the newest craft beers. He’d finish repainting his kitchen. He’d categorize all the photos on his laptop. He’d finally kickstart his job search. He knew he’d need to write down goals to fight the monotony.

Picturing that solitude — and the potential for the wheezing and hissing of an L train to serve as his only soundtrack — Paul switched off the ignition. He walked into the store and meandered past the mismatched suits and discarded dresses. He scanned the aisles of tattered self-help books and dusty stacks of board games and puzzles. He stopped at a wooden, midcentury canopy bed that looked brand-new — undoubtedly a wealthy couple’s castoff. Paul ran his fingers along the frame, checking for dents. Then he felt a pair of soft hands grip his sides and smelled Claire’s citrus-scented perfume.

“You know,” she said, “this piece comes with a free gift. She’s five-foot-ten and likes long walks at sunset. She’s a little impulsive, but I hear she’s a keeper.”

“Is that so?” he asked, but as he turned to kiss her, he made clear he’d reached the same conclusion.

David Kesmodel is a writer in suburban Chicago.

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