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When it comes to stuff, are you a keeper or a pitcher? I grew up a keeper for sure, although as I get older I’m morphing more into a pitcher. Still, I tend to be sentimental about things, which greatly complicates the situation.
So I felt like I’d found a soulmate in Eve Schaub, author of the new book Year of No Clutter: A Memoir (thanks, NetGalley, for a review manuscript).
I found this book a bit mistitled. I was expecting it to be about someone who decided to not take in any clutter during a year, and to clear the house of it. Instead, Eve tells us about her mission to clean up her “Hell room” — a large room in her house full of mountains of unsorted stuff (incidentally, I would also have loved to have seen photos).
Anyway, I plunged into the book — kind of like how Eve plunged into the room. Exactly what kind of stuff filled the Hell room? “… my fifth grade report card, three sheep’s worth of wool fleece, and a desiccated dead mouse in a box … a never-played board game, a hook rug I made of Garfield the cartoon cat when I was nine … enough leftover fabric from homemade Halloween costumes to provide a trousseau for a medium-sized horse.” Take out the dead mouse, and here was a woman I could relate to.
It’s Hard to Let Go
The book is really part memoir, part the author’s thought process as she attempts to let go of various things in the room. Many of her thoughts felt quite familiar. She stressed over letting go of things from her past, due to thinking that getting rid of the item was in some ways like getting rid of her memories. “I have a firmly-entrenched belief that keeping things can make the difference between success and failure, between happiness and regret, between remembering and forgetting.”
Some of her points which I found interesting:
- “If I keep everything, who’s going to know or who’s going to say what’s really important? If it all gets thrown away someday anyway, then what the heck was the point?”
- One of my biggest issues in decluttering is my desire to not just throw things away, but to get each item to someplace where it can be useful to someone. Eve is the same way, and let me tell you, decluttering with this mindset is HARD WORK! Eventually, she comes to realize that “no matter how much good luck (things) brought you in the past, you have to let albatrosses (aka clutter) go. Even if that means they’ll go sit in the landfill and no one will ever appreciate or understand them.”
- There is a correlation between hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): between 18-42% of those with OCD have hoarding issues too.
- She mentions a friend who, upon the friend’s engagement, burned all her mementos of earlier relationships. “This was pretty much the complete inverse of how I related to the world. The world, in particular one’s private, most personal world, was for gathering and keeping! Not for destroying … I could not have been more horrified if she had told me she had burned her own childhood.”
- Eve recounts the pleasant experience of looking through childhood mementos with one of her daughters: “… perhaps this is what I had been saving all this stuff for — not for posterity, but for … now. For this moment. I had retold a story of myself that I had forgotten all about — shared it, enjoyed it with Greta. What more was required of these things? Could it be, I wondered, that their job was done?”
- Schaub faces another issue — many people in her life give her their old things. She is too nice to say no, and also tends toward hoarding, which just makes the problem worse: “Partly this is me being the problem-solving good girl my personality always seems to default to: wanting to help, remove their separation anxiety, even gain their approval: Yes! I can solve your problem! I’ll take that monstrous, glass, art nouveau cigar ashtray off your hands — I will appreciate it and will give it a good home!” Wow, I could have written that.
- Related to that, she mentions the hoarder’s problem of seeing potential in everything, everywhere. They are “crippled by potential.” I can relate to this; I think it’s a common issue for teachers, who save many things, ostensibly “to use in the classroom.”
- She eventually comes around to the philosophical issue: why is she saving all this stuff, when it can’t last forever anyway? “Alex’s fourth birthday party won’t be around forever, just as people who care to sit down and watch that tape won’t be around forever. Although it seems like common sense, nevertheless it’s a thought that continues to elude me, probably because I want it to elude me. Who wants to think about the time in the not-too-distant future when we will all be dead and gone? How long does it take until no one will remember us at all? … I intend to live forever, curating the Eve Museum into eternity. It makes sense, therefore, that keeping things can be interpreted as a kind of denial of death.” INTERESTING!
- One final humorous observation — Schaub struggles over getting rid of a pot of hers which has lost its handle. She ruminates “Laura Ingalls would have kept it. She would’ve found a use for it — feeding the pigs or watering the horses, or perhaps storing treasures in it under her bed.” So funny, and so similar to something I would think!
I recommend “Year of No Clutter” as an entertaining read, and one that you may find yourself relating to, if you (like me) struggle with keeping your stuff under control.
Year of No Clutter Giveaway
The publisher has five copies of the book up for grabs. If you’d like a chance at one, you can enter here.
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