I Clutter; Therefore, I Am!

I am by no mClutter surrendereans a neat freak, nor am I a complete slob.  I do, however, have stacks of various old magazines and catalogs scattered throughout my house, much to my husband’s dismay.  My closets are jammed with clothes that are a few sizes too big or too small, and everything in between, because a woman’s weight fluctuates from month to month – we’re weird like that.  I also have an entire cupboard stuffed with old, stained, plastic, food-storage containers, some without the lids, in spite of the fact that my husband just bought me a set of brand new Rubbermaid ones.  So, why do I have an overstock of unnecessary things?  Because I might need them someday, that’s why!  Such is the cry of the Red-headed, Two-legged, North American Clutter-Bug.

So, what constitutes clutter?  It’s when there’s a week’s worth of mail–mostly unopened–lying on the counter, along with the church bulletin you got three Sundays ago.  It’s the dining-room table piled so high with various, unrelated items that you’re forced to eat dinner on a TV tray, in the living room.  That, my friend, is clutter and it has a will of its own.  If I were going to sum up the classic definition of clutter, I would say it’s no place for anything and nothing in its place.  What if there’s a huge pile of stuff, neatly stacked somewhere in your house?  Then it’s not clutter, right?

Face it, clutter happens. Tracing back to my childhood, I realize that I have always been a clutter-bug. It was only four years ago that I was finally able to part with a big, giant Barbie head, known in the toy industry as “Barbie’s Beauty Center.” I got it from Santa when I was six and kept it all these years, knowing it would be valuable some day. Favorite childhood books are packed away in our basement and I can’t bear to part with them. My husband, Chad, has finally stopped asking about them; he doesn’t understand that I’m now a grandma and I’ll want to share stories like Where the Wild Things Are and Ramona the Pest with my granddaughter, Callie and the one on the way. I still need these books. I love these books. They must remain with me for a while longer.

I am not completely in denial about my problem. (Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?) I will, begrudgingly, concede that clothing draped over a chair or left folded in the laundry basket for up to two weeks after laundry day is, in fact, a category of the clutter in itself and one that has taken over my life. However, leaving clothes out has at least one advantage: In case of fire or a sudden invitation to a party, my clothes are ready to boogie, so long as I can climb over them to get out.

Looking back through my family history, I come from a lojunk-drawerng line of clutter-bugs. My mother has forever been queen of the house-cleaning technique called “Hide it in a drawer and they’ll never know it’s there.” She still has several junk drawers in her house that serve as a catch-all for whatever she hasn’t yet thrown out. This trait, God bless her, she generously passed down to me.

My mother is not responsible for her odd behavior; my grandmother was prone to it, too. When Gramby passed away in 1991, we found a linen closet filled with approximately 160 brand new rolls of toilet paper. Evidently, she was terrified of being caught without it. The strangest thing we found was a collection of large boxes, overflowing with old, faded, plastic flowers—like those you’d find in cemeteries during winter. No one knows why.

“Clutter-bug-itis” is something from which even my father suffers. My dad has an abundance of old hunting gear and gun magazines that he hasn’t touched since 1978. I think he must have learned this from his mother who could have been a case study on hoarding in her own right. When Gram died in 1999, we discovered hundreds of plastic, grocery sacks in several overstuffed Hefty Bags. Perhaps it was because Gram was a Depression Era survivor; and, obviously, expecting another one soon because she had stocked-piled 80 sticks of butter, 9 pounds of sugar and 11 pounds of white, all-purpose flour in her freezer. Although this makes me feel a little better about my clutter habit, I have finally realized that being a clutter-bug is actually due to some bizarre, inherited genetic disorder. It must be!

I look at my vast amounts of clutter as the residue of my life. My house has become a gigantic memorabilia collection of my existence. Places I’ve visited, people I’ve met, things I’ve accomplished–all are represented, in one way or another, in my clutter. For example, I worked in radio for nearly 15 years as a morning-show disc jockey. I have scrapbooks filled with autographed head-shots, backstage passes, CD’s and t-shirts, as well as boxes of snapshots that picture me with various celebrities with whom I’ve worked over the years. That mouse pad signed by Randy Owen, the lead singer from the group, Alabama has never been used for its original purpose, but I keep it just because it’s cool. (Now don’t panic…You won’t see me on an episode of “Hoarders” anytime soon, it’s not quite that bad.)

My autographed Soupy Sales t-shirt is precious to me because it reminds me of the night I was one of his opening acts at Genitti’s Hole-In-The-Wall dinner-theatre, in the Detroit suburbs. This means absolutely nothing to someone outside the metro Detroit area, but Soupy was a Detroit icon, and he asked me and a few others from our little acting troupe to sing for him–What? I’m not going?? Enough said. How can anyone possibly get rid of stuff like that? You see, one person’s clutter is another person’s precious memories.

Even our cupboards and pantry are victims of my clutter issue. In the past few weeks, I have pulled out canned or boxed food stuffs that are well past the expiration date. We bought them but never got around to using them. Long stale spices, out of date canned fruit, cake mixes and frosting from 2006…Mmmm….that ought to be good, right? As I said, I come from a loooong line of this type of “I may need this – just in case” thinking. Someone may drop by. There might be a last minute pot-luck supper somewhere soon. You get the idea.

Clutter will, at times, cause a rift between Chad and me; even though he is bitten by the same bug when it comes to mementos from his years in the Air Force or out-dated DOS-based computer games on floppy disk, old documents from 1987, etc. In fact, he is infamous for his grocery bags and small boxes of things we need to sort through, file, throw out, shred, etc. He will get that “the house is closing in on me” feeling and need to purge…sometimes that need will come upon him around the time we’re ready to go to bed, or when we’re trying to get out the door for work. Timing is everything, don’t you think?

As a result, we have, together, vowed to grab hold of our collective clutter, no longer allowing it to run our lives. I promise to make the effort to throw out things that I haven’t used in three years: miscellaneous papers, phone numbers, business cards, and “tchotchkes” accumulated over time. Chad has made the same vow. (For the record, we started in the basement in January and the various Spokane area Thrift Stores are better for it, because, frankly, I don’t have the time nor the patience for a yard sale!!)

organizeI really am taking these baby steps toward purging my clutter very seriously, analyzing the causes of my attachment to such trivial things and memories. What is it that causes them to have such a strong hold over me that I cannot bear to part with them? My efforts to understand my “clutter fetish” have caused me to spend enormous amounts of time (and money) at places like the local library and Barnes & Noble. Those self-help books are abundantly available out there for people like me. In fact, I now have several of them…neatly stacked…on my desk… in the office. They’ve been there since 2002.


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