secret life of clutter
problem is that I am inherently not neat. I am a clutterer and do
not know the secrets of neatness.
There must be ways to change my messy nature! I am on one knee,
like Joan of Arc, looking up at the heavens, tears rolling down
my cheeks. Please, O Lord, help me see the way!
My brother and sister think they know the secret: decluttering.
"Get rid of at least 30 percent of your stuff," says
my brother. He confides that my sister says my problem is that I
have too much clutter. Such a lie! I ask my brother what constitutes
clutter and he says, "Well, books."
Books are not clutter! They sit on shelves!
Besides, just today, I threw out an empty pencil-lead case, three
barrettes and a dried-up tube of Krazy Glue. I'm making progress.
I am, in some ways, an innocent in this whole cluttering business.
By that I mean to say I really never had a chance. Both of my parents
create clutter, live in clutter, engender clutter, excrete clutter.
My mother used to live in an old, mouse-infested, four-bedroom
farmhouse. Over the years she filled one cupboard, one closet, one
room after another. All the junk made great nests for mice, so there
was always the smell of mice.
As each child grew up and left, the clutter took over our rooms,
one at a time, until they were all full. When you'd go home for
a visit, you'd have to clear books, clothing, old newspapers, chairs
or boxes off your bed if you wanted to sleep on it.
I won't talk about the fridge or the kitchen cupboards, or the
lean-to out back, which finally sort of imploded upon itself.
Eventually, she moved and we all came to help clear out the stuff.
I remember clearing out the closet in my bedroom and finding a mummified
nest of baby mice. I think mother mouse got lost and couldn't find
her way back in all the clutter.
My mother moved up the road and built a tiny house on a hill. One
room plus a tiny kitchen and a loft.
The idea: small space, no room for clutter!
The trick: she has added rooms every few years. More rooms as in
more room for clutter.
But she did the smart thing and married a Dutchman, who helps her
keep things tidy and throws things out when she's not looking. So
it's a lot better these days, but still, you look in the fridge
and there will be three loaves of bread and three heads of lettuce.
We'll be at the store and she'll say "I think we need cheese."
You get home, look in the fridge, and in the back are three bricks
My father grew up in South America during the depression. This
is his excuse for keeping everything. I never really thought about
it, but there probably weren't a lot of children who had
to rinse out paper towels and hang them on the laundry line to dry.
Last time I visited, I saw one of his flannel shirts. Even when
I was a child it was soft and silky with age, and I'm nearly 40.
It must be nearly 60 years old by now. In the laundry room hung
some of his cotton undershirts, equally ancient. They don't die,
those undershirts. They just get worn until they become "cloths"
instead of "clothes."
My father has taken over all three rooms in his basement. Screws,
pieces of wood, old greeting cards, jars, newspapers, newspapers,
newspapers, bits of string (must never be discarded!), books, books,
books, things made by children who are now old enough to have their
own grandkids, buttons from old Democratic presidential campaigns,
portraits of Simon Bolivar (his hero), pieces of cardboard (must
never be discarded!), boxes of scrap paper to reuse ...
I can't even begin to describe what all is there.
Worst of all is his compulsive hoarding of newspapers. The garage
is so full of stacks of newspapers that only the driver's side door
of his car can open. Passengers must exit the car before it goes
in the garage.
He loves reading news on the Internet, which you'd think would
help with the newspaper collecting habit. Sadly, no. He prints out
news from the Internet every day because, he tells me, "the
stories don't stay on there."
Did you know that the library in his town sells him a month's worth
of old newspapers for only SEVEN DOLLARS? Such a deal! They can
see him coming, that's for sure.
My own basement got pretty bad until I cleaned it out recently.
It had gotten so that I started just throwing things down the steps
because they were blocked with stuff.
One day I threw a box down the stairs only to remember, while it
was en route, that it was full of Styrofoam peanuts.
"Never throw a box full of Styrofoam peanuts down the basement
stairs!" I said cheerfully as it snowed Styrofoam peanuts.
One day I threw a picture frame down the stairs. When it broke upon
landing I said, "The true test of a picture frame is whether
it lasts when you throw it down the basement stairs!"
Sometimes, it's like I'm a drunken person, only with mess instead
of alcohol. Je suis une personne malpropre. Je me déteste.
So, what's wrong with clutter? In fact, there are different personality
types, and some of these include the clutter component. When I learned
that I was relieved. I no longer felt guilty for being a
slob as I recognized it was merely another aspect of my personality.
Just like some people are anal.
And who says anal is better than cluttered? Anal certainly sounds
worse. I would wager that Freud didn't like anal people. If he had
liked them, he would've called them "really good" people
or "pretty" people. Not "anal."
Still, operating on the theory that the clutter of my home/car/office/yard
is only indicative of the deeper clutter of my bank account/emotional
life/work efficiency/soul, I endeavor to begin to declutter.
So, like a microwave oven, I start from the outside and work my
way in. Letting go of stuff is the goal. Here is what's on my desk:
- An empty package of fat-free-no-sugar-added hot cocoa mix
- A "Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui" recorded book
- A tube of hydrocortisone cream (leaking onto desk)
- A piece of plastic from some packaging
- A receipt for floor paint I bought in August
- A pile of already printed-on paper that should be recycled
- A bigger pile of printed-on-one-side paper that I can use for
printing on the other side
- A parking ticket
- Two more parking tickets
- Instructions for building a power-generating windmill
- A piece of handmade paper that my son made by hand
- A roadmap of Oregon and Washington
- An empty, unmarked CD case
- The empty wrappers from a chocolate binge I had earlier this
- Two business cards; one mine, one my former lawyer's
- A container of sewing machine needles
- One AA battery
- Dental floss
- Terratints chapstick in a bad color that I never use
- An empty coffee cup
- A broken paint brush (the brush part fell off)
- Another battery
- A bottle of Windex multi-surface cleaner (with vinegar!)
- A starfish
- A completely broken Imation disk drive that has been broken
for two years.
OK, I will throw that last thing out right now. And the choco wrappers
and the broken paintbrush handle and a few other things.
There. That's a start.