Joanne Palmer: Cleaning the clutter for the new year |

Joanne Palmer: Cleaning the clutter for the new year

Joanne Palmer

In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at or

— If a cluttered desk is a sign of genius, I must be Einstein. The top of my desk is buried under stacks of magazines, catalogs and, for some odd reason, a salad bowl. I'm not quite sure how it got there, but I suspect it's because it was the right shape to serve as a catchall for some photos or mail, so it got pressed into service. For months, I have used one-half of the dining room table as my desk, which means we are eating dinner amid a pile of mail, calendars and my laptop.

The space underneath my desk is just as scary as the top. There is a toppled jar of paperclips spilling out across the floor. Springs from the hide-a-bed that broke a few months ago are beneath that, and I can spy with my little eye a few envelopes, which, if I had to hazard a guess, are unpaid bills. To even get to my desk, I have to deflate the air mattress that doubles as a guest bed or can be used as a raft in case of an unexpected flood. The guest left a few weeks ago, so there is no real reason for the guest bed to be blocking the access to my desk.

OK, OK. I think the first thing to do is admit I have a problem. No problem! I freely admit, the clutter situation is out of control. It's a new year, and what better time to get rid of a little clutter? While driving one day, I heard one-half of a story about throwing away 50 things: Decrease the clutter. Free up the mind for other things. It sounded good.

What I had heard about was a book written by Gail Blanke, "Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life." I have not read the book, but the title alone motivated me to start. For help on deciding what to keep and what to pitch, Blanke has some simple advice: "If it doesn't make you feel good, get rid of it."

First up: clothes. I have had a small pile of clothes squirreled away in the back of my closet to donate or give away. I dug out the bag and put it in my car.

Pens. I admit this sounds crazy, but I have a basket full of pens, markers and highlighters, most of which do not work. I took three minutes to sort through and discard the broken pencils, and what do you know, there were the stamps I'd been searching for since Christmas.

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Onward! I find dental floss in the cellphone charging station, the protractor we re-buy every year for school in my jewelry box, several flashlights and the swim goggles I've been looking for.

Eureka! My favorite ring, with huge sentimental value, is discovered on the floor beneath my desk. I am so overcome, I start to cry. This was a gift from my mother for my 50th birthday, and I was convinced it was gone for good. I jam it onto my ring finger immediately before I lose it again.

This is more like a treasure hunt. I find the arm of a pair of reading glasses that broke off six months ago, a pair of small binoculars I like to keep in my car for bird watching, the rabies tag that belongs on the dog's collar and more keychains than I ever imagined I owned.

Too bad garage sale season is so far away as I could really host a good one. Instead, I make piles of things to recycle, another couple of bags for LIFT-UP and Déjà Vu Boutique and a big bag of junk for the trash can.

The salad bowl leaves the desk and comes back down to its rightful place in the kitchen. I certainly don't feel like Albert Einstein, but I do know I'll spend less time looking for things and more time doing things I like to do. Not a bad start to the new year.

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