How to Organize the Barn

By Anna Mitchael

Out on the hilly farm-to-market roads that weave around our house there are old-style Norse barns that will take your breath away in the early morning, dewy hours. Alternately, the drive offers plenty of tottering structures that are one tiny puff of cow flatulence away from becoming a timber yard. I used to think barns were as easy as that — one look and you had the whole story. But of course, that’s not true. If it were, life would be a bag of cheese puffs. Instead we get the box of chocolates.

Our barn is blue. Simple. Endearing. From the outside the story seems basic: Here is a building that will stand the test of time. But then I was allocated my own corner of the barn, and I discovered so much more was happening behind — or inside — the scene.

Over years with this corner I went from someone with a relatively tidy, organized life to being a woman who would pull over at first sight of a garage sale sign. Slowly the barn nooks and crannies that were empty and airy stacked up with do-it-yourself projects in varying stages of completion. The birdhouse only a vulture could love. Half a Christmas tree made out of horseshoes. Canvases filled with great intentions but horrible paint jobs.

Since barns are often used for storage, to get your corner to a level of clutter is something of note. Like being recognized for an especially carnivorous spirit when hanging around the smoker with people who, for fun, talk about brisket bark. But my achievement was not welcomed by all. Even though the barn was fine housing for my leaning towers of pastimes, the commander in chief of the barn was less than enthused.

For many moons I wandered the barn, wondering how to motivate for the chore at hand. As you may know from tackling large organizational jobs in the past — or avoiding them — they often are fraught with manual labor. I needed to turn this truth in crazy directions, to make it unrecognizable. I asked myself, “What would a political analyst do?” I thought and thought. Then while gazing at a half-bejeweled coyote skull, inspiration struck.

It hit me like a box of chocolates falling off an overstuffed barn shelf: I do not have a green thumb.

For years I had been embarrassed when people assumed that because I lived in the country I knew how to plant a garden, enjoyed canning my own preserves, loved white picket fences and picnics. I grinned through these conversations, swallowing the truth: My gardens yielded nothing but okra en masse and heartache. But now perhaps that reality could become an advantage.

First, I would need books. Specifically, gardening books. More specifically, books with pictures and little useful information. The goal is to lose myself in dreams of big, red juicy tomatoes. Blueberries. Strawberries. Green beans and watermelons. Then to sketch a best-in-county garden with monstrous, perfectly measured rows. Such a quadratic utopia, of course, would require supplies. Extra-large bags of dirt. The necessary seeds. Fertilizer helps … or so I’ve heard. A rake. A wagon. A shovel. Then all of those materials would need to live in clear view of the house so every time I looked out the window I could see the herculean task in front of me. Prepping the soil. Hoeing the rows. Planting the seeds. And then — oh yes, it’s inevitable — the weeding.

In no time I predict cleaning the barn will look like a cinch. And once my corner is organized, there should be plenty of room ‘just in case’ I happen to come across some unused gardening supplies.

The barn and I, we’re simpatico, I know my secret will be safe.