In the front parlor of my house, the first room that guests walk into, there is a huge pile of half-opened boxes. It is probably the ugliest pile of half-opened boxes on the East Coast.
I no longer see it.I've succumbed to a classic American illness. I'm houseblind.
I vowed this wouldn't happen to me. When we bought the new house I vowed to avoid that certain disease that happens to most homeowners. They move in wincing at the green wallpaper and orange carpeting. Within a week, they say, "We'll rip it out." But they don't get to it for a month, and by then, it's too late. They no longer see it.
In that same front parlor of ours, there is a dirty white sheet over the couch. Heidi, the woman I married, put it there because it's the dog's favorite spot. I tried to protest. It'll make us look uptight, I said, like those people who put slipcovers over furniture and plastic walkways on rugs.
"Don't worry," said Heidi, "the sheet comes off if anyone comes over. And we'll get something nicer in a few days."
The sheet has now been there for over three weeks. We no longer see it, and our guests, I'm sure, all walk out the door whispering that two people as uptight as we are certainly deserve each other.
I've suffered from houseblindness for years. In my last house, I had a habit of putting garbage bags in the dining room. I once missed four garbage days in a row, and the dining room ended up filled with 15 bags.
It brings up rule No. 1 of house-blindness: Stuff that is left somewhere for more than three days will probably stay there forever.
Rule No. 2 of houseblindness is that if you ignore stuff for too long, it mates.
I swear there were only five boxes in the parlor last month. There are now 20. In the living room we allowed a stack of newspapers to accumulate in a corner basket. Two weeks ago I decided to bundle them up and put them on the curb. I made the mistake, however, of leaving two newspapers at the bottom of the basket. The stack is now three feet high again. Stuff mates.
Then there's rule No. 3: Stuff that belongs to no one in particular will stay where it is forever. In the dining room there is a load of laundry piled on a chair. I'm convinced it's Heidi's, and she's convinced it's mine, so we both ignore it, and it will probably still be there until we sell the house and leave it for the new owners.
Rule No. 4 is that no matter how well you try to arrange a house, stuff gravitates to the most convenient spot. Take our living room coffee table.
"We're going to keep this clear," Heidi said when we first moved in. "One or two books, maximum."
"Deal," I said.
I've now forgotten what wood the coffee table is made of. How did it happen? Well, you know how when a magazine or newspaper comes in, and you see something you want to read, but don't have time, you toss it on the most convenient surface to get to later and pretty soon you have a pile of 46 of them? That's our coffee table. It's now buried under seven books, 12 magazines and 19 old newspaper sections.
I doubt I can get over this disease, as it seems to be hereditary. My father was a collector of George Washington prints. Once, as a joke, he got a huge framed portrait of Washington on his death bed. It was the most depressing piece of art anyone had ever seen. As a second joke, he put it on the wall. We then stopped seeing it, and it stayed there for at least 10 years, convincing everyone who knew us that we were the most downbeat family in Chicago.
Now for the final rule of house-blindess. I know a couple who've had a stewpot in the middle of their dining room floor for more than a month. They wish it wasn't there, but acknowledge that the odds of moving it are low. So they're now thinking of turning it into a planter.
That's the final rule - even when you know you're houseblind, you surrender to it.
I think I'm at that point myself. I'm typing this at home, in my new study. When the previous owners were here this had been the child's room. The wallpaper was a montage of cute little truckies, bussies and carsies. I decided it would go immediately. There was no way I could do adult labor surrounded by truckies, bussies and carsies.
The wallpaper, of course, is still here. I've surrendered to it. Fortunately, though, it doesn't bother me anymore. I'm houseblind.