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Life's way of piling up on you

Know my five vacuum cleaners and you will know me:

A wall-mounted Dustbuster Classic, from my carefree, one-dog youth.

A rolling Floorbuster Cordless Vac, suggesting an inability to commit.

A Sharp Twin Energy vacuum. (I was born on the cusp between Gemini and Cancer.)

An Oreck XL Commercial vacuum. (I believed it could change my life.)

A Rigid Wet/Dry Vac, bought after watching construction workers in Diet Coke commercials.

All this, for a house barely over 1,000 square feet.

You might guess my home is tidy. Not so. It is simply well meaning.

This weekend, like most weekends, I vow to tackle clutter. I mean to put my life in order, maybe deliver to the Spring the bags of clothes that have been in my car since 1999. (If battered wives are underdressed, I am to blame.)

Again, perhaps, I will visit Target and capture giant plastic containers, shallow enough to slide under the furniture, where terrified tufts of golden retriever hair cling together, dodging Oreck's growls.

The yin and yang of my life: I hate to throw things away. Yet, I long to reduce clutter.

The wicked evidence:

A dead refrigerator in the garage, guarded by two lawn mowers.

Five bird feeders for two trees.

Dozens of containers of rusty screws.

Eighty-four cookbooks and a 3-foot-tall stack of Bon Appetit magazines.

Four brands of wood floor cleaner.

Phone, coaxial and computer cables I could one day need.

Three rolls of reed, in case I return to basket weaving.

Four bottles of hair spray, three with broken pumps, and 13 containers of moisturizer.

Legions of earrings, though I choose the same pair most days.

My sister, over the telephone, considers my situation. She calls me back, borrowing from psychoanalyst Karl Jung.

"You shouldn't feel bad about your clutter," she says. "Delve more deeply into it and ponder it. It will teach you a lesson about yourself, because you're obviously keeping those things for a reason."

I ponder the turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers.

Do I yearn to cook Thanksgiving dinner?

I ponder a 40-year-old toy doll with a chewed off hand, partially severed leg and closed left eye, handiwork of my first dog, Barnaby.

Does my inner child want "Little Patsy" fixed?

I know better than to mess with the small statue of Jesus from First Communion. With equal reverence, I guard the pink ceramic slippers from Miss Ann, my ballet teacher in 1965. Dad's pipe wrench, Mom's pink nightie _ all sacred ground.

And in the back yard are two jagged slabs of Mexican tile floor rescued from the home of my childhood, where there's now a Taco Bell.

It's harder to explain why I keep a souvenir coffee mug monogrammed with the acronym for Guatemala's birth control agency.

My sister offers a second, conflicting appraisal. It comes from a book, The Art of Growing Up, by Veronique Vienne.

"There is no need to hold on to what's obsolete," Vienne writes. "One never loses what one tosses away deliberately."

Spoken like a woman who has never known the devotion of a good vacuum cleaner.

"In order to keep everything," Vienne writes, "we have to be willing to let go of it all."

Maybe this weekend.

Or the weekend after.

_ Patty Ryan writes for the south Tampa edition of the Times.