Crispy elastic and other secrets of the underwear drawer

For quite a while, I’ve acknowledged that my biggest housekeeping hangup is hanging on to too much “stuff.”  “Stuff” can be anything from cookware, kitchen gear in general, linens (towels, sheets, blankets, pillows), note pads (I’m staring right now at a paper grocery bag full of legal-size notepads and notebooks, which is sitting on the floor next to my desk simply because I’ve no other place to put it) and clothes.

As I learned while we were selling our first two homes, it’s astonishingly easier to keep the place clean and tidy when there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. In order to display our houses to their best advantage during the tense process of showing, the Pumpkin and I actually rented storage to squirrel away excess furniture, file boxes filled with I-don’t-know-what-all, and extra “stuff” that we weren’t using at the time.

When we first met both the Pumpkin and I were budding hoarders; that knowledge should give you an idea of the contents of most of those exiled boxes and bins. Cleaning the house became almost effortless, when it wasn’t fraught with moving boxes and piles of “stuff” from one place to another.

While we were selling, we had to be ready to show the house at any given point. That meant that every morning before we went to work, the bed was made, all dishes were either in the dishwasher ready to run or in the process of running, and I had at least traveled through the house to see if it was necessary to vacuum quickly. Nothing smelly was left in the garbage and bathrooms were always spotless. There were a few times when I’d cooked something odorous (Spanish rice, anybody?) or only had enough time to jerk the bedspread up over the unmade bedding before we were out the door, but for the most part the house was immaculate.

It sounds fussy and stressful (and it truly IS stressful to worry about what strangers think of your housekeeping skills, let alone the assumptions they’re making about YOU as they tour your personal refuge from the world), but because we weren’t wrestling with extra detritus from our combined previous lives it wasn’t as tough as I imagined it.

In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. Wow, I really DID enjoy coming home to a clean house. Why was that so enjoyable for me? A heroine of mine, Cheryl Mendelson, explains it beautifully in her book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House: She tells us that home is where we go to heal and restore ourselves from the stressful outside world, and that in order to truly relax and recover there, we need to make home a clean, comfortable, healthy place that doesn’t challenge us physiologically or psychologically.

Think about it: You’ve just come home from a stressful day at work or school, you’ve fought to get through horrendous traffic and worked to keep your job, all the while making sure you don’t lose your keys or allow someone to steal your wallet. When you arrive home, you don’t want to encounter additional challenges, like having to wash dishes before you make dinner, or even worse, not having anything to fix for dinner. This is why it’s so enjoyable to have a tidy, orderly household.

(At this point in your reading, you’re rolling your eyes and saying ‘Yes, yes, Kara, I understand that this is important, but what’s it got to DO with underwear?’ Because after all, it was the ‘underwear’ that really pulled you in to this blog entry. It’s relevant, stick with me for just a little bit longer, please.)

So, tidy house equals dreamy housekeeping due to lack of excess “stuff” sitting around. Even relaxing was easier, because I could plop my lazy bottom on the sofa with a book, and not feel as though there was something, somewhere that I should be cleaning or organizing. And then when we’d move into the new next house, cleaning prior to moving in was almost effortless. It’s so much easier to wash walls and scrub floors when there’s no furniture or “stuff” in the way! We’d clean, and then bring all our “stuff” home to settle in and relax. BIG sigh. Ease of cleaning was then over, thanks to the reappearance of our “stuff.”

The Pumpkin and I have moved together several times, and we’ve learned a great deal about doing that efficiently. We’ve learned many useful things, such as ‘the larger the box, the fewer books you should put into it,’ and ‘just because we’ve moved it twice before, doesn’t mean we should move it again.’

One big thing we’ve learned is how to get rid of extra “stuff” and we’re doing a really good job at winnowing out the chaff. Now all our “stuff” is with us here in the Knoxville house; once we opened boxes which were moved several times without being unpacked, it was easy to make the decision to toss/shred/recycle many things. But now we’ve progressed to the point that the chaff is not immediately recognizable. It’s a little tougher to sort through what’s remaining, to discard what we don’t use and leave only the essential items for which we have storage space. We haven’t made a whole lot of progress in the past few months.

Last week, however, I took a HUGE step forward for me: I purged my underwear drawer.

Recently I watched my Pumpkin go through HIS underwear drawer. It was pretty straightforward: He has undershirts and briefs, and he got rid of the too-short, shrunken, or discoloured shirts.  The underpants were a tad more complicated. He found briefs he didn’t wear because they were the wrong size or oddly cut, so he got rid of anything that was uncomfortable or weird, leaving only the comfortable unders of which he can grab a pair without any in-depth analysis.

His heroic action inspired me to take a look at my own delicates. My experience was a tad more involved than his, though. You wouldn’t think that panties take up that much room, but it’s not just panties lurking in the back of the drawer. Women’s underwear is more…complex…and expensive than men’s underwear. It takes up more room. For many years I’ve had to fold my panties and bras carefully, and then use a combination of violence and agility to cram them into the drawer so that they all fit. And then for the next couple of days after laundry day, it’s a challenge to get one fresh set of underwear without letting the rest of it burst from its confinement.

“That’s just stupid,” I thought to myself. “We should never have so much underwear that there’s no room to put it all away.” After all, how many pairs of panties and how many bras do I need? Ideally, I should be able to get by with seven of each; I do laundry once a week, and shouldn’t really need many more than a week’s supply. I began digging through my underwear drawer, and found that I had several pairs of panties which I’d bought and then discovered they didn’t fit quite “right,” so I never wore them again. I also found old, old panties that I was ashamed to wear (even though no one SEES them) because they were faded or otherwise, and the elastic on those was so exhausted it CRUNCHED when I stretched them experimentally. Note: Elastic should never be crispy enough to crunch when it’s tested.

I also renewed my acquaintance with several “foundation” pieces, i.e. torturous contraptions purchased for ‘special occasions’ and worn only once, but which were hellishly expensive. As expensive as they were, I couldn’t throw those away, no matter how uncomfortable they are or how unlikely it is that I’ll ever wear them (willingly) again. Then there were slips, chemises, and other types of smoothing garments which guarantee modesty and make skirts and dresses skim gracefully over the lumps and bumps of the body. (Why has it fallen out of fashion to wear a slip?! This is something that can only HELP you, ladies! We don’t really want to be able to see the outlines of your bodies when you walk between us and the light! And it’s NOT pretty when you stand up, and your skirt gets trapped between your thighs. Some things really should be kept a secret!)

Well, I finally bit the bullet and tossed everything I wasn’t wearing. All the old panties with the crispy elastic, all the ‘perfectly good’ panties which just didn’t fit right, all the jog bras which are just a smidge too small or a tad too big (and therefore unable to perform adequately), exhausted slips and the sadistic, underwired body armor that cost altogether too much, all went into the trash.

This does still leave me with a sizable amount of underwear. I still have underwire bras that I wear when I’m pretending to be a grown up, and better than three times that quantity of comfy jog bras, as well as enough panties to last me for a three-week vacation. But now that I’ve purged all the wrong-sized, worn-out, unused pieces, I actually have enough room to put everything away in one drawer without resorting to sleight-of-hand to close the drawer. It’s a small accomplishment in terms of space, but it’s a huge shift in my thinking, and I’m really enjoying how easy it is to put the laundry away now.

All I have to do to finish up our home now is apply this same thinking to the bedding, cookware, furniture…

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