I had reorganized two of the three bookcases in an alcove of the room my husband, Paul, and I grandly call “the library.” A couple stacks of books awaited transport to Goodwill. I had dealt with my collection of mystery books and books about mystery books; the third bookcase was more of a potpourri. My brain was tired. That one could wait for another day.

Instead, I turned to the top of that bookcase, where there was a stack of old magazines. And a folder. I opened it.

Inside was a manuscript. It was 14 pages, typewritten. The first chapter of a novel, titled “Martin Crowe.” There was no date on it, but the address in the upper right-hand corner, under my name, was for my mother’s house in Massachusetts. Pre-computer. Pre-Maine. Perhaps 1982?

I sat down and read it, like I was reading the words of a stranger.

I have been pandemic cleaning. It has been a journey of personal discovery — and includes reuniting with my much younger self.

I’m not the only one obsessively tidying. In addition to anecdotal evidence I have heard, there was a line that extended around the Augusta Goodwill last weekend. People were getting rid of stuff. One guy had filled the bed of his pickup.

We’ve been home, and so have had the chance to notice things that have piled up, outlived their usefulness or are just plain ugly. Denied many of our usual pursuits, we’ve had the time to clean and reorganize.

I’ve never been a super-organized person, but something clicked in 2020. As Paul has become fond of saying to me, “Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?”

For me, it started last June. I’m a school librarian, and had been working from home since March 2020. Staff returned to the building for three days in June, and one of our assignments was to clear off surfaces, to make it easier for the custodians to clean them. That’s not so easy in a library, but one thing I could do was declutter my office desk and credenza.

I was ruthless. My problems with organization have to do with paper and books. I pile them. I don’t like parting with them. But there was something about being in a pandemic that made me clear-eyed about what was necessary. In the end, the horseshoe-shaped area was completely clean. My desktop contained a pencil cup, box of tissues and container of hand sanitizer.

This was an amazing achievement for me. What’s even more incredible is that I’ve been able to keep it pristine ever since. I’ve only added a small cube of notepaper to the lineup.

At the start of this school year, I took all the various papers that I had previously either stacked in a tray or posted on my bulletin board, hole-punched them and put them in a three-ring binder.

Who is this woman?

Now my bulletin board only contains a calendar.

I cleaned out the drawers of the credenza and found an earring I lost two years ago. Luckily I had kept the mate, because I was sure the other one had fallen off my ear in my car, and that someday it would show up.

There was a reason for my newfound minimalism. Uncertainty. We didn’t know, at the outset, if we’d be able to carry off the hybrid schooling model, or if there would be frequent virus outbreaks. I had no desire to return my office to its former homey messiness. I was now camping out with the bare essentials.

As time passed and it became evident that following the rules worked, neatness had become a habit for me.

Next I tackled my home office. Work-at-home days and Zoom meetings convinced me I needed to overhaul. The bookshelves that provided the backdrop for my screen presence weren’t disastrous, but I wanted them to look better. I also needed a place for my work laptop on at-home days. My desk was taken up with my own MacBook Air and a small storage unit.

After much contemplation, I took an antique typewriter off the filing cabinet next to my desk and put the storage unit on that. The only place for the typewriter was under my desk, which serves as a reminder that I have not perfected the art of reorganization yet.

I cleaned out a secretary-style desk in the dining room and nearly wept at its new bare beauty. My bathroom makeup drawer now contains only the items I am currently using, which turns out to be six. I can see them all at a glance; no digging through a tangle of mascara tubes.

But my happiest moment was finding the long-lost manuscript. I remembered the character, but not the plot I was setting forth. As I read, I was impressed with my young writer self. I hadn’t thought she was that good.

I’ve made some notes about where the story could go. In the closet I’m currently cleaning, I think there may be a file for “Martin Crowe,” with notes I made circa 1982. I can’t wait to find it.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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