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What's so bad about clutter?

For one family, getting rid of clutter is way overrated.

By Mary Lou Healy / May 7, 2007



Strange coincidences have been cropping up in my life lately. It seems that everywhere I go – to the supermarket, the dentist's office, the hair salon – magazines and newspapers catch my eye, and all have one thing in common: They carry articles that address the problem of clutter. Is some benign hand trying to tell me something?

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I look around my comfortable, only moderately cluttered home and wonder. I realize that, when we're expecting guests, we do need more than just a bit of time to tidy up. But isn't that what home is all about – to have that lived-in décor, that casual je ne sais quoi? It's a look that takes time and experience to get just right. A little laziness also helps.

Is everyone really that concerned with clutter these days? Surely the international situation, to say nothing of the interminable grandstanding in the months before our next presidential election, must be higher on the worry meter than clutter.

But just for fun, I entered "clutter" into an Internet search engine only to find that the fervor generated by this subject is far worse than I ever imagined.

The first page listed 17 websites/references with clutter-busting secrets. There were 10 more pages to follow. Fascinated, I journeyed onward.

But the 10th page wasn't the end. It went on ... and on ... and on. When I reached page 50, I realized that "clutter" was destined to continue to infinity. All the sites had but one thing in mind: the desire to unclutter me – emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I'd never known I was such a mess!

Some promised quick clutter control and 10 tips or 15 steps toward that laudable goal. Others warned of "clutter zones" and gave the lowdown on living the low-clutter life. Still more advised how to unclutter my kids, my closets, my home, my computer, even my body and mind.

One hapless blogger moaned about the Clutter Police – her friends – who were plying her with books on organizing and offering their expertise with her sock drawers, kitchen cabinets, and bookshelves.

I even came across something called "Ode to Clutter." I didn't go there! I don't want to be put off poetry forever.

You may begin to suspect at this point that I am not clutter-free. And it's for a very good reason: I spend too much time with intriguing but meaningless pursuits, such as delving into clutter on the Web. You can't be clearing away clutter if you spend time researching how to do it.

Furthermore, I will confess that I kind of like clutter!

Clutter has received a bum rap. It tells me who I am and what I've been doing – in case I happen to forget. There are the stamp collections I stopped working on years ago and the huge bag of scrap material, hoarded against the day when I might want to make a quilt or hook a rug – a day that keeps receding into the future. There are the stacks of magazines with articles too interesting to discard or photographs too beautiful to put into the recycling bin – a bin with which my husband is far more enamored than am I.

I won't dwell, beyond a mention, on the closet full of clothing a size too small, which, I firmly believe, one day will enfold me again; or my mother's mechanical toy collection, which must be kept for possible grandchildren's delight; or all those kitchen gadgets that are so irresistible in the store, so impractical for actual use. There are boxes of recipes, cut out when I was hungry but too complicated and time-consuming for everyday meals. But you never know; one of these days...

Clutter comes naturally to me. My family lived in the same farmhouse for many generations. We were a proper Yankee family who never threw anything out.

If buying an item was ever mentioned, perhaps by my mother, my father would reply, "Don't we have one of those in the attic?" Usually we did.

One particular listing in that endless parade of clutter websites did make me smile. It was called "Clutter's Last Stand." If clutter is going to make a last stand anywhere, I think it's safe to say that it will be right here at my house.

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