Monday, June 19, 2006

You would almost have to see it to believe it. A manly refuge in almost pristine condition. To one side, a card table and chairs set up and a mini fridge on the workbench. To the other side, all tools accounted for and hanging in their respective places on the wall. And stacked around the inner walls and on the floor? Nothing.

Enjoying an afternoon run on a already busy Sunday, I just happened to jog right by this bastion of majestic mechanical and storage: a garage that was impeccable. Stripped of all excess, this garage made "neat and tidy" look sloppy. The image almost made me stop in my tracks, but since one of the occupants of the house - a middle-aged man - was sitting at the card table, I didn't stop to admire the view too long. I replayed its memory over and over again while I completed the last 1/2 mile of my long afternoon run.

Slowing to a walk at my own driveway and opening one of my garage doors, I thought to myself, "Why can't I get my garage to look like that?" I'll admit, I don't consider myself a neatness freak but I do revel in the almost magical order of tidiness. What would it take to get my garage in order like the one down the street?

As my garage doors opened and I quickly surveyed the cluttered contents of what I refer to my wife Di as the "cement outer office" of our home, the answers to my questions stood before me. Along the entire east wall of our garage are numerous storage boxes of all sizes. Each one of these boxes contains clothing from specific age ranges: 0-9 months, 9 - 12 months, 12 - 18 months, ... The boxes are crammed with clothes that my oldest son Leo wore when he was a baby; ones we saved "just in case we had another child." And added to these boxes are new boxes of clothes that have been quickly outgrown (or so it seems) by Emily, Hannah and Nicholas - stored for the time being and ready to be given to another local family with multiples. It almost looks like a Kohls/Children's Place storage warehouse. Above these boxes are an assortment of umbrella strollers and car seats for different developmental stages - ones left over from Leo and now, the triplets. The only real "garage" items on this wall are a lawn seeder and a shelving unit storing roller blades, bike helmets and mower fuel and oils.

Along the back of the garage - the south side - is cluttered with a large triple stroller (similar to a bobsled), a lawnmower and snow blower (it is North Dakota here) and an endless line of recycle bins of glass, plastic, aluminum, newspaper and tin cans. Just five years ago, we were lucky to fill one recycle bin over a two-week period.

And to the west side of the garage are a series of shelving units filled with four large bins (containing two large artificial Christmas trees and one artificial "Autumn" tree), boxes of files from my previous life as a university administrator/educator, carpet steam cleaner, expandable lawn chairs, winter car gear (again, it is North Dakota here) and numerous outdoor toys accumulated to address the needs of four children. This wall is topped off with several framed pictures from hiking/ backpacking adventures and family vacations - sort of a personal Wall of Fame of the Hoedls.

At a glance of the overall garage vista, I was also quickly reminded of the boxes of clothing, files and items that are also presently stacked in Di's and my bedroom, in our lower level storage rooms and throughout our home. I imagined a grand garage sale that would attract buyers from surrounding blocks and cities and the words, "Take it, it's yours!" exclaimed by me, over and over again. The final scene of my imagination was a pristine and ordered garage... and me sitting in the final remaining expandable lawn chair, enjoying the view.

Quickly catching my breath from my run, I was greeted by my son Leo as he entered the garage from the hall entry way. "Hi Dad, did you have a nice run?" And with helmet in hand, he was off on his skateboard to tackle the obstacle course of the garage and down onto the sidewalk...

Sure, it's cramped these days in our garage... in our home... and most importantly, in our lives. We haven't had the time to remove some of the reminders and tokens (multiple boxes, strollers and toys) of our cramped life; the same reminders and tokens that also let us know that our life is also comfy, as it's filled with love. I guess order and tidiness isn't all it's cracked up to be sometimes.

And I guess for the meantime I can put up with the sometimes chaotic lifestyle of moving boxes and items around just to get the cars in the garage. The card table and chair will have to wait, as I'm going to enjoy my cramped and comfy heart for one more year. Okay, maybe two years... or more...