"OK, ready ... set ..."
"Hang on! Is this the throwing-out part or the giving-away part?"
"This is the putting-away part. We get to throwing out and giving away later. Grab 27 items that are lying around and put them wherever they're supposed to go."
"And remember, a pair of shoes counts as two items. Ready? Go!"
For the next few minutes, the only thing you could hear was feet trotting through the house amid a stealthy, determined sort of silence. It was the sound of children and their mother competitively decluttering, in this case by means of the "27 Fling Boogie."
Popularized by the online organizing genius "FlyLady," the boogie has three stages. First you dash through your house putting things away. Then you dash through pitching out the same number of things. Finally you dash through and grab 27 objects to give away.
It's amazingly rejuvenating, but the key to all three steps is resolution and speed: She who hesitates over a pile of old magazines rather than chucking them straight into the recycling bin is lost. Oh! She'll think, "Wait, here's the Bon Appetit with that recipe for ... now, where is it?"
Twenty minutes later, she'll still be leafing through the shiny pages, her mind on food and her energies fatally dissipated. Pretty soon she'll sigh, stack the magazines again with the idea of coming back to them later, and the session will be over.
The successful declutterer, like the shark, must keep moving or die. Unlike the shark, the declutterer must never look back into a bag of discarded items or she will remember some reason to keep them. Sharks don't have bags of discarded possessions, the lucky things.
"Twenty-six, twenty-seven! Flip-flops!" the youngest child yelled.
"Great!" said her sister, "OK, we're ready for phase two."
One hundred items put away in five minutes: pretty good! Among other things, strewn shoes (eight) were back in the mud room, lunchboxes (three) had been emptied and stored, chairs (12) pushed in, and a pillow (seven) fort dismantled.
"Now we throw things away," said the organizer, distributing shopping bags. "Ready-set-go!"
The little army surged up to the second floor. The children's bedrooms, while superficially tidy, turned out to be an Aladdin's cave of garbage: empty CD cases from long-lost CDs, ballet hairnets that had lost their elastic, math notebooks from antiquity, and a packet of almonds "that's been on my desk since last summer." Before you could say "27 Fling Boogie," if you could bring yourself to say it out loud (which I can't), the hundred pieces of junk had been seized and flung.
Unfortunately, the children were already losing steam. While collecting garbage, they'd become reacquainted with forgotten toys. These toys now called silently to them.
"No, no, we've got to finish," the organizer insisted. "Now we'll collect stuff to give away."
As she spoke, her eye fell upon a stack of magazines. Oh! She thought, "Wait, there's that Bon Appetit with the recipe for ..."
Meanwhile, the youngest child was quietly rummaging through the bag of discarded goodies. She pulled out a colorful wooden square and looked up. Everyone was engrossed in her discoveries.
"This could be the picture frame for something," she whispered, and, holding it aloft, she tiptoed out of the room.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@ washingtonexaminer.com.