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Posts Tagged ‘clutter’

I thought this was interesting in light of my recent post on aspirational clutter. While blogger jlsathre had assumed that she would end up bringing home most of the contents of her deceased parents’ house when she and her sister cleaned it out, she left with only a very few items.

In The Things I Didn’t Keep of Mom and Dad’s, she writes:

Leaving the house that first day, I knew that it wasn’t the things that remained inside that I wanted to keep. I did take a few things– the candy dish, a ledger with page after page of Dad’s handwriting, and an address book with pages of Mom’s.  But mainly what I kept  were things I didn’t have to carry.  I had found that I didn’t need very much.  I already had the stories.

Stories without things? Absolutely the best souvenirs you can ask for.

Things without stories? They’ll clog your closets and your mind.

Not every item that we inherit has a story, and I think it’s an unfair burden to think that we have to keep a thing only because it belonged to someone in particular.

Stories vs. things? I’m picking stories every time.

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Have you ever found a book passage that seemed custom-written for you?

While perusing Slave to Happiness: Why Having an Interesting Life is the New American Dream by Penelope Trunk, I stumbled over this paragraph in the chapter titled “Testing the Meaning of Money and the Value of Stuff”:

So much of what we human beings hold on to is what we wish we were using — aspirational clutter. Objects that commemorate a life we aspire to but do not have.

I’ve had a version of this thought running around in my head for the past two weeks. I’ve expressed my exasperation to the husband that sometimes it feels like our house is simply a museum for stuff, a storage bin for the trappings of suburban life.

There’s a reason they’re called trappings: Get yourself a houseful of stuff and see how much it stresses you out to even CONSIDER packing it all up to move.

We all seem to find ourselves using the “what if” mentality when it comes to belongings. What if I ever have 12 people over for a sit-down dinner? (Note: If I invite 12 people over for a sit-down dinner, call your local psychiatrist because, seriously, 12 people?) What if I decide to take up embroidery again, despite the fact that the activity bored me to no end the first time? What if I decide to make homemade Twinkies with that specialty pan, despite the fact that the only homemade Twinkies I ever made were nearly as atrocious as the real thing?

What if I never saw this stuff again?

People attach artificial value to a lot of things they never use and really wouldn’t miss if they were gone.

We’ve essentially made ourselves immobile. Scale up in home size, scale up in things to fill it. And I don’t mean Hoarders amounts of stuff, I mean bookshelves filled from end to end, cabinets filled with things that rarely see use and plastic boxes — neatly stacked in closets, mind you — filled with decorations and accessories that we’ve either tired of (for now, we tell ourselves) or just don’t work in our current situation (for example, we haven’t had a Christmas tree in 15 years because of the cats, but we do have a box filled with lights and a few ornaments because, you know, one day …).

The funny thing? That rare moment when you DO find that you need the stitch-puller that you remember packing away with the rest of the sewing supplies even though you never sew? You WILL NOT be able to find it because of all the other stuff you’ve got neatly stored, just in case you ever need it.

It’s lunacy, really, the way we stockpile our homes and clutter our lives and minds with physical objects that have little use or meaning. We trap ourselves in suburbia with 2,000 square feet of china cabinets, storage ottomans and under-the-bed sweater boxes, never considering the opportunities we might freely pursue if we didn’t have to worry about the stuff spread all over the house, the tiny apartment in the big city we might move to if we only didn’t have hundreds of books and an inexplicable assortment of old, unused electronics.

Maybe it’s time to refocus our aspirations so that our “aspirational clutter” isn’t clutter at all, but only the things we use, love and enjoy.

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The browser tab title of “Organize This!” — a New York Times story — is “Barbara Reich Organizes the Homes of New York’s Elite.” Clearly, this does not apply to me, but some of Reich’s philosophies apply to us all.

Her mantra is, “Stress is clutter, and clutter is stress.” We live in a time of stuff, and it’s simply stifling.

I know I have less stuff than a lot of people, but every time I clear another storage box out of the closet, I feel even lighter.

Clear space equals a clear mind.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 8: I have this bad habit of decluttering and then leaving the box of decluttered items in the house for weeks, turning it into clutter.

But not this time. I brought last week’s New Year decluttering remnants to the New Leash on Life Marketplace this afternoon. They can sell it faster, and I have a cleaner home office sooner.

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A chapter in Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People describes the use of childhood nerdiness as an inner defense against a disordered home life. Nugent cites Dungeons and Dragons, a quite orderly role-playing game, as one of the tools used by a childhood friend to cope with the chaos of a dysfunctional family living in a cluttered home.

A chaotic home life wasn’t a prerequisite to D&D play among my small group of friends in the late 1980s, but an acute sense of “otherness” certainly seemed to be. Yeah, yeah, all teenagers get the feeling that they don’t “belong” at some point, but some of us really didn’t blend into our surroundings. Whereas our classmates were content with pegging their jeans and listening to love songs by Chicago, a few of us were striving for hair colors that didn’t exist in nature and digging around for older stuff from the Violent Femmes and the Sex Pistols.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our Bon Jovi moments, but we didn’t get stuck there. We went all out to discover exotic-to-us bands like Marillion, and a couple of us were even accused of being Satanists after choreographing a talent-show dance routine to a particularly dark Depeche Mode song. (Note to accusers: I bet you’re still cretins.)

Our home lives weren’t what you would call chaos, though some might be termed “loosely structured.”

We belonged in our D&D group, our fates determined by our imaginations and dice rolls. To our parents, it was a safe, acceptable weekend gathering (there was just a bit of intergroup dating, most of which ended amicably). It’s probably the No. 1 reason that I have more male friends than female friends to this day – I had so much fun with the boys (there were usually only two girls in the group) that the girl stuff held no appeal.

Not belonging stinks. But when you ultimately find your people, it’s a better feeling than pretending.

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