Lessons from a cluttered purse

Published 7:27 pm Saturday, February 25, 2012

When I leave the house to run errands or go shopping, I feel a pain slowly ease into my right arm and my shoulder. It creeps up my neck or down into my arm. It is painful.

I have wondered if I was having a heart attack or a chiropractor had a drive-through window I could utilize to ease the pain. I have popped ibuprofen like candy. Then it came to me: all this creeping pain has been induced by my purse, not some life-threatening ailment.

Of course, I realized this while standing in line in the grocery store. I looked down into my purse for my wallet and gasped. It was an audible gasp with a bit of chest clutching for effect. I tightly cinched my purse and looked around for fear that someone might have been able to peer into it and see its gruesome contents. I paid the cashier and walked, quickly, out of the store.

I got to the car and sat down, admittedly looking around to see if anyone was looking at me, and then I dumped the contents of my purse onto the seat. My purse had become that junk drawer you have in your kitchen, a little bit of everything you know not what to do with.

Change, lipstick, earrings, children’s toys, paint chips and even a piece of my kitchen sink have taken up residence in my purse. I had amassed almost $30 in loose change, some sticky stuff that was probably once a cough drop, a slew of receipts from every inch of eastern North Carolina, several decomposed tissues, I think a partially eaten jelly bean and a whole lot of dirty dust had all taken up residency in my purse.

As I sorted, I formulated an outline for a really good family meeting. I worked myself up into a fit and blamed every family member for my purse being in such a poor state, even my husband. He was brought into the fray when I stuck my finger on one of his golf tees found inside my purse. I wasn’t going to be everyone’s dumping ground.

I thought about my husband’s nice, orderly wallet, of which I am quite jealous. It doesn’t ever get too full because it isn’t big enough. Or, more likely it stays orderly because he has to sit on his wallet, and who wants to have to sit on a whole lot of junk? He does gather all the same stuff I do, sans the lipstick, but he dutifully dumps it onto my kitchen counter each night. So, his wallet never becomes a pit of despair. Then, I got back to that outline for a family meeting to include no dumping on the kitchen counter.

I finally finished cleaning out my purse and decided not to have that meeting. Although they may add to my “pit of despair,” it doesn’t exist because of them; it exists because of me.

I am the one who doesn’t put things away. I drop them into my purse to be dealt with later, but later never comes. I should take pride in my things and keep them neat. I would tell my children to do so, so why shouldn’t I be held to the same standards? It was then I realized what big a lesson there was in all of this, and it was way bigger than my purse.

So, when you see me in the coming days and weeks please, look first to see if I am listing a little to the right. If so, stand down and don’t even bother to ask about my purse as I am sure it will be right back where it all started — the pit of despair. However, I have every intention of keeping it all straight. My purse and I, we are definitely works in progress, with no illusions of grandeur.

A Yankee with a Southern soul, Gillian Pollock is a wife, mother of two ever-challenging children and director of Christian Formation at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.