A great time to purge your shelves and your life

“I don’t want to scare you,” my husband said quietly to me after Christmas dinner, so my son and daughter wouldn’t hear and be horrified (because “horrified: is usually a party-foul on Christmas), “but there was a maggot crawling up the wall near the bedroom.”

“Oh, not to worry,” I replied. “It’s not a maggot. It’s worms from those blasted little moths that get into the cereal.”

I don’t know how those little buggers get so far away from the cereal boxes. But they do turn up in the darnedest places from time to time — crawling up walls and across ceilings. I’ve been fighting them for weeks, but the moths are winning. Unless you’re very lucky, you know just which ones I mean: they’re very tiny and gray, and come fluttering out of whatever cabinet you store your crackers, cereal and dry goods.

Unless you’re militant about storing things in Tupperware and never allowing an opened box in the cabinet, you’ve probably had an infestation. And, they’re such a pain in the tail to get rid of. The only option is to throw away every opened box, and go through every container to check for grains of rice that move.

I don’t like to kill things, not even bugs, but those moths are an exception. My vision goes all red and sirens go off in my head like The Bride from Kill Bill when she saw an enemy. They must die. I’ve been fending the moths off for weeks, but I can’t seem to completely exterminate them, and cleaning out the kitchen cabinets during the holidays was just too tall a task. I snuffed them out by hand one by one, but every day, one or two more will come fluttering through the kitchen. I was keeping them at bay, at best. But clearly not prevailing. But I also hadn’t been able to locate which box or container they were coming from, and everything I checked looked okay.

My husband, however, had lost his patience with the tiny invaders, and on the spot, just after Christmas dinner, he attacked the cereal cabinet and started pulling things out by the fistful. He was only able to find one container with oat flour that had some unwanted visitors, but I doubt that was the main source. I suspect there’s something somewhere where the bulk of them are coming from. I remember one year, I discovered a pail of walnuts, still in the shell, way in the back of a cabinet, and it was swarming with tiny moths.

This year, it’s still a mystery. But my husband felt satisfied that he’d at least put a dent in their population. However, along the way, he tried to get me to part with cornmeal and raisins and various seeds and miscellaneous whatnot that I’ve hoarded over the year, and insisted they needed to be thrown out. So, while he handed me bags of this and that to throw away, I checked them, didn’t see any movement, and put them back in another cabinet when he wasn’t looking. (I’ll find out if he reads my columns if he, so if he starts searching for cornmeal and raisins to re-purge.)

As Joe attacked the boxes of shredded wheat and pasta, it occurred to me that it was such a symbolic activity for this time of year. The rush and frenzy of Christmas is over, and the decorations are still up for as long as you care to enjoy them, and it’s not quite New Year’s Eve yet. It’s the “down time” of the year, when you can just stop and relax, and think about your next step.

With the new year just ahead, I started thinking about what things in my life needed purging. Just like our cabinets, I think it’s a good time to take a thorough look at everything I’ve stored up over the year and dump out the things/relationships/activities/choices that didn’t serve me well. Toss them into the dumpster, brush my hands together, and move on. Then I can take a long, hard look at the cabinet and see what belongs where, and what needs repackaging, and try to put everything in comfortable and efficient order.

I think that will be a great mental exercise for these last few days of 2011: taking some time to take a walk, sit in the sun, think and ponder, and carefully identify what’s infested with pests or has outlasted its shelf-life, and eliminate it. And once I’m rid of all that, I can turn my attention to the best part: Figuring out what I really want in all that space I just created.

It’s one of life’s great lessons — if you want to add new things, you must first let go of some old ones to make room. And that’s true whether it’s life or a kitchen cabinet crammed with shredded wheat and rice cakes and sunflower seeds. Keep the good stuff, get rid of the bad, and decide what you really want on those shelves.

Here’s to 2012, and looking forward to all good, fresh, new things on the shelf. 2011 didn’t exactly set the bar too high, so it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to top it. If there’s one word to describe 2011, it’s “meh.” (If you don’t get that reference, ask a teenager.) And one way to make life less meh-y is to purge all the moth-eaten stuff from your shelves. If it’s not healthy, toss it. Meh and moths. Less of both in 2012.

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