Sometimes heroes come dressed as ordinary people.

Tom peeked over the crooked bifocals resting gently on the bridge of his nose. Smile lines revealing a lifetime of laughter lifted the corners of his eyes toward his receding white hairline. His well-worn jeans sported an iron-on patch and dots of caked on paint. From his perch atop the antique wooden step ladder, he looked like Santa out of season.

Summertime Santa — a.k.a. my tenured, trusty handyman — was there to grant my wish: to clean and organize my garage after a recent move. Flying around the world in a reindeer guided sleigh was a less daunting proposition. 

A single dim and dirty lightbulb dangled from the watermarked ceiling. Spindly spider webs decorated the corners like a carpenter’s intricate gingerbreading. Black bike tire marks marred the formerly white walls. Totes of treasures haphazardly stacked nearly obscured the door. And what was that musty smell?

Everybody hates scope creep

While Tom expertly dismantled Charlotte’s Web, I lifted the lid on a lifetime of memories. I sprung into action unpacking totes and boxes with the adrenaline of an athlete and the agility of a cheetah. I scrutinized. Sorted. Stacked. 

“Whatever it takes to get the job done today.”  

The mounting magnitude of the task at hand soon became impossible to ignore. There were sorted stacks of stuff everywhere. “Whatever it takes” became “the honeymoon is over.” The line between exasperation and exhaustion blurred.  

Just as my mood collapsed like the lid of a damp cardboard box, Tom rescued the moment.

“Great news!” he exclaimed. His voice transcended the mounting clutter like the gentle fog lifting off a fall morning. “There’s enough space above your garage door for me to build shelves. The boxes you have will easily fit there, and there’s room for plenty more!”

From clutter to clarity

Suddenly I became the gushing host of every home makeover show you’ve never seen. “Picture this — totes by theme,” I explained as I stared into an invisible camera gesturing to the blank upper third of the wall. “Holidays categorized by color. Nostalgia packed in rose.”

I frantically scanned my makeshift studio to connect with my loyal audience of one. All I could glimpse through my rose-colored glasses was the tip of Tom’s white hair.

Suddenly a lifetime of chaos came into clear focus.  

The solution to crowded calendars — just like crowded garages — isn’t devising a scheme to store more stuff. The solution is storing less of the meaningfulness “stuff” that stacks up over time. Outdated obligations. Old hurts. Limiting labels. Anything that no longer serves a productive purpose.

When you lift the lid on your life, what do you see: clutter or clarity? Because what I discovered in my garage that sticky summer day is a timeless truth: clutter obscures connection

If you feel like what’s around you is obscuring your view of who’s in front of you, you’re not alone. How can you clear a path to connection and joy? Choose one obligation to subtract, and you’ll add space for who and what matters most.