Confessions of a Cluttermaniac
December 3, 2005
Last month my husband uttered the words no wife wants to hear: “You’re just like your mother.”
We were discussing clutter, specifically my genetic predisposition for accumulating it. What prompted our conversation was Dave’s admitting he didn’t like inviting colleagues to the house because he thought it was messy.
I wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty or insulted, so I opted for both. “Why didn’t you say something sooner? Why didn’t you do something? You live here, too.”
“I figured it was hopeless,” he said, and he sounded so dejected my desire to slug him was briefly outweighed by compassion. But I came to my senses and in the heated but productive debate that followed, we agreed on the following:
I am like my mother.
Dave likes my mother.
Neither Dave nor I like clutter but I am fighting an almost overwhelming battle against my genetic inheritance. If I am to triumph and make our house a place where people can find a place to sit without having to displace collections of seashells, photo albums, out-of-date magazines and overdue library books, I need him to help and support me, not bury his head in the knick-knacks.
Like many similarly afflicted accumulator/collectors – that’s what I am according to a quiz in a book I discovered while decluttering – I did not wake up one morning and decide the house would look better if I developed an aversion to the garbage can and the recycling bin.
My inability to part with possessions may be the result of a traumatic loss in my childhood, which has led me to ascribe sentimental value to everything from scraps of paper to authentic family heirlooms.
This became a problem largely because I married someone whose motto is “Your worldly possessions should fit into the trunk of a Volkswagen Beetle.” An unreasonable, even ridiculous philosophy, but Dave has other qualities that have convinced me our marriage shouldn’t fall apart over clutter.
“You don’t have to throw your stuff away,” he explained to me kindly as he laid out his plan to put our excess wares in storage bins in the basement.
I was about to argue when the phone rang. By the time I returned to the living room, Dave had nearly cleared every surface. The bins were almost full and we still had three rooms to go.
The change in the room was dramatic. Moments earlier a dozen framed photographs had adorned the top of the piano. Now there were three. The top of the bookcase had housed a family of plastic animals, Ukrainian nesting dolls, and crude art projects that had been collecting dust since the kids had made them years earlier. They were gone, replaced by a spare-looking piece of curved, etched glass and a small glass inukshuk.
The effect was downright elegant. It was also unsettling. I fought the urge to replace at least one of the nesting dolls and some photographs. “They’re only downstairs,” Dave explained. “You can get them any time you want. Just substitute one thing for another.”
By the end of the weekend the house looked neater than it ever had but I was feeling uncomfortable, and not just because my ego was bruised from having to acknowledge that a man who has no interest in cooking or laundry has demonstrable expertise in at least one domestic arena.
I was upset because Dave was insisting that our photo albums belonged in the basement. Before I had a chance to lobby for my plan to display them between the stereo speakers in the home entertainment centre, the phone rang, again. By the time I returned to the living room, the albums were gone, replaced by a clock. Dave was nowhere to be seen.
I moved the clock. It looked better on the antique sewing machine anyway. Then I restored the photo albums to their rightful place. I didn’t bother soliciting approval. After all, it’s my house, too.
When Dave reappeared, I showed him my handiwork. For a second it looked as if he was going to protest, but he reined himself in. I’d like to think it’s because he knew my idea was superior, but I know better: even a clutterer needs to win sometime.