Saturday, January 13, 2007

My Cluttered, Cluttered Heart: Part One of an Endless Series

I recently joined AARP. Yeah, I'm getting old, but AARP started soliciting me when I was in my early 40s. Now that I'm 53, I decided that heck, it's only $12.50/year and this group lobbies for a lot of things someone like me, a boomer who is eligible for full social security benefits in less than 13 years, cares about.

So far I haven't done much with the membership, but I have received my first issue of AARP: The Magazine, which is a surprisingly hip publication. At least as hip as we old types can handle. In it appears the article "Conquering Clutter," which is (obviously) also available here online. As I read it, my brain went ping-ping-ping. You see, my bloggy friends, I am a clutterer.

I knew that, of course, but reading the article felt much like the first time I read a detailed description of my sun sign, Libra, egged on by my friend F. How could these strangers know so much about me?

From the AARP article, we find this link to The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. I am somewhat relieved to find myself exhibiting mostly Level I traits, with a sprinkling of traits from Level II. (Click on the "clutter hoarding scale" PDF icon to see what I'm talking about.) And I only have significant clutter in more than two rooms because (1) Tall Son has never cleaned out his former room and (2) my kitchen is cluttered with unhung cabinets. Again, waiting on Tall Son to hang them. Those two rooms aside, I only have one truly horrific room that I would not let anyone see even if it were on fire. But I sound rather defensive here, don't I?

The article mostly discusses the difficulty older people (older, it seems, even than me) have giving up their artifacts. I, too, have that problem, but I've had it my whole life. I had little of any value as a child, and since I've been poor or struggling most of my adult life, giving or throwing something away has often seemed like a sin.

I might need that thing some day, after all. And then I'd have to buy another.

Friend Alanna surely will find this as interesting as I did (bolds mine):

At Level I and Level II the sins of the chronically disorganized are detailed [in the document previously mentioned]: “slight narrowing of household pathways; unclear functions of living room, bedroom; one exit blocked.” It is these minor offenders—the “common clutterers”—that Terry Prince, a Sacramento professional organizer, tries to help. Prince teaches clutter-control classes and workshops for the chronically disorganized, and she’s made her own observations of the species during her career in the field.

“Clutterers are interesting,” she says. “They’re creative. They’re people with a lot of interests.” About one in three of her students, she points out, are teachers—notorious compilers of paper clutter—and many others have craft hobbies, along with an unrealistic number of projects in process and a large backlog of supplies and materials for which they claim, “I’ll get to that someday,” a familiar clutterer’s refrain. “If that’s what you’re hearing,” Prince says, “you’re in trouble.”

But I'm working on my trouble. It's not a New Year's Resolution; it's a Life Resolution. It's something I've been working on slowly for a while, and I'm trying to be more conscious about and focused on that work. When I'm busy with school, however, it's tough. In the quieter time between semesters, holiday trip notwithstanding, I've been working on it. Last week I took my old microwave cart and some kitchen castoffs to the local women's shelter thrift store. As I drove away and saw the cart in the rearview mirror, a cart I had painted to match my cabinets, and which had served me well for about 10 years, I felt an irrational pang of guilt for abandoning it. I felt the same way when I threw the old stove out in November. It still worked, after all. Never mind it was in dreadful condition.

What I do need to keep around, I'm working on organizing better. My insanely slow kitchen remodel is part of that plan. And today I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and purchased a set of "risers" for my pantry cans. I was skeptical that it would do the job -- the little steps looked too small -- but indeed it did, at least for the average and small cans. So perhaps I'll be out tomorrow after another set. And I'm working hard on getting rid of two things for every one thing I bring into the house. Let's see how I did today:

  • Brought in can "risers" for the pantry (see photo below); last week I threw away half a tall kitchen bag of expired foods, a job I obviously haven't done for over a year. So, far I'm on the good side of the equation. (And I got the risers in part so I could SEE what I have and use it.)
  • Brought in four little votive candles. I've been burning away on the big candles lately and am burning one of the new candles as we speak, so I consider this as a wash. This is a consumable that I actually do consume frequently.
  • Brought in a bath "brush" with netting. This may be a waste of money if the netting doesn't stay on the brush, but we'll see. Excuse me a minute. Ok. I threw away the old worn-out bath "pouf." And since when I went to BB&B I returned a drawer organizer that didn't work out, and I mailed my old digital camera to First Grandson today, I declare myself a good anti-clutterer, at least for the day.

Revised to take out old photo and add new photo of the two most organized shelves in the pantry with the second riser (the larger one on the right) now happily settled in.


Alanna said...


You know that you and I have the same propensity for clutter, but your now-tidy shelves bring up memories of the demented husband in Sleeping with the Enemy....Don't change too much!


Bitty said...

There is utterly NO chance that I'll change too much, unless I give up my job and spend all my time organizing, from dusk to dawn.

Until I did this, I had no idea I had ANY mushroom soup, much less three cans. And I did go get the other "riser" so now I have a whole chorus of tidily organized cans. Grammie would have been so pleased. My pantry always drove her crazy. She'd organize it every year when she came to visit, and she was a clutterer, too. So.