Frumpy Middle-age Mom’s dining room, all cleaned up for company and divested of 80 pounds of junk.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around thinking about eating. I do this a lot. It’s my favorite topic, at least after wine and  Bloody Marys.

And I was recalling the olden days, before I had kids, when I used to throw a lot of fancy dinner parties with real china and crystal.

After I reminisced for a bit, I looked over at my dining room table, which has been covered for the last five years with the detritus of modern life, specifically every bill, invoice and tax notification I’ve ever received, that I intended to file away. Someday. The pile was so huge that there may have been small creatures living under it. Certainly spiders. And I hadn’t seen wood underneath for at least a few years.

After I looked at the table, I couldn’t help glancing at the breakfast bar, about 20 feet closer to the kitchen. Since the pile on my dining room table had become so unmanageable, the breakfast bar ended up as the repository of paperwork I really actually had to do something about, like urgent letters from the IRS and notices from my credit card company, which I never open because they never contain good news, but I can’t see throwing away anyway just in case they decided to lower my interest rate. Yeah, that’ll happen.

Underneath the breakfast bar was an empty space into which I tended to stick cases of canned dog food from Costco and a case of red wine I bought on sale at Grocery Outlet. Yes, it sort of made that corner looked cluttered, but it meant I didn’t have to figure out where else I could store them.

As I sat around thinking, it occurred to me that some people actually use these spaces to serve and eat food.

Remember food? I like food.

And I felt sad that this was impossible, because the space was so messy. Then – and wait here for the big reveal – it occurred to me that this was entirely a self-imposed, First World problem I was grappling with.

Because, any time I wanted to, I could (gasp) just clean it up.

Now, my normal method of cleaning up my house is to think about what needs to be done, then take a nap.

I have a house cleaner who comes twice a month to do the heavy stuff like mopping and scrubbing, and even though I really can’t afford her, I wouldn’t give her up unless I was about to lose my house. But she can’t really deal with the clutter, because she has no idea where I want to put things.

Occasionally she will intervene, like when I bought an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker at a Black Friday sale but then was afraid of it, so I never took it out of the box. She finally forced my hand by opening the box and putting it on the kitchen counter in January, along with the instruction manual. Rich subtitles would have read, “Use this, you moron.” And I finally did and I love it.

But, usually, sensibly, she just cleans around the messes and goes home.

Anyway, I pondered the idea for awhile of actually cleaning up my small living and dining room. And it was a good thought. But I’m a world-class procrastinator.

So I decided to invite some people over who’d never been to my house before for a few weeks hence. I knew that would give me a deadline to actually get the job done.

I started using every spare minute to clean and declutter, instead of spending it watching other people do it on TV. And I remembered how cleansing it is to get rid of useless stuff. A few times I was at impasse, like when I looked at the wok I’d bought at a thrift shop five years ago and never used. “I’m going to use this. Someday. I don’t want to get rid of it,” my brain kept declaring. But I forced myself to put it into the pile for the Salvation Army anyway.

The problem with getting rid of stuff is that sometimes you actually do wish you still had it. I had a decluttering episode and tossed a fondue pot still in the box just before fondue became fashionable again, and now I wish I hadn’t. But, mostly it’s liberating. I worked and worked and worked.

I made my young adult kids, Curly Girl and Cheetah Boy, help me clean up, too. Their job was to haul things to the garage. The garage is a whole ‘nother topic that we won’t get into today. I painfully divested myself of books. Not as many books as I should have, but as many as I could wrench away from my bookshelf, knowing that I still have hundreds more.

As you might guess, the final decluttering did not take place until the actual morning of the dinner party I’d planned, when the last few things were flung into closets and doors were slammed.

Then, I got out my china that I haven’t used for a decade and set the table like a regular person, one who wasn’t a pack rat. It was a fun party, and the people there who hadn’t seen my house didn’t know that it was usually a wreck.

I can only fit a few people at my small table, so I intend to invite all my friends to dinner parties in the near future.

That will ensure that I don’t mess it up again. But right now, I keep walking around and staring in wonder at my house, thinking how great it looks and ignoring the corners that never quite got dealt with.

So check the mailbox for your invitation.