Year of No Clutter: Review

Year of No Clutter
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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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7 thoughts on “Year of No Clutter: Review

  1. This book sounds perfect for me! Since I am older now than ever before (aren’t we all?), I need to get right on it to dispose of a whole lot of saved clutter in my upstairs dormitory room. I used to think that my granddaughter would someday appreciate my old writings and picture albums collected from many trips, but now that she is a mother herself with her own daughter already and a son due in May I doubt that she will even have time to peruse her Grandma’s things.

    I think that it is a very good question to ask, “how long will I be remembered”? Maybe with any luck at all, my great-grandchildren will remember me faintly. Former students may have a limited memory also, but I am betting none of these people will care enough to save the items that I felt were indispensable.
    As I said before, I need one of these books to gain more insight into a perennial problem. Finally, my own daughter in her mid-fifties wants copies of her grandmother’s favorite recipes, so maybe there is some hope. After all, my Julie was only 3 when her grandmother passed, so approximately 50 years have passed before these recipes sparked her interest. “Wonders never cease” was an old saying of my own mother, and I now have to agree! 🙂

  2. Thank you for a lovely review!! I wanted to mention that you CAN see pictures of the room: if you sign up for the “Week of No Clutter” here: http://books.sourcebooks.com/year-of-no-clutter/ People who sign up will get something every day for the next week, including a time-lapse video of the room from start to finish, tips and ideas, video of me talking about saving children’s artwork with my daughter Greta, a funny quiz, and more. Thanks again!

  3. I’m positive I could relate to the sentiments expressed in this book. I am so sentimental, it hurts. I still have the map my dad used to plan his honeymoon–if I could find it among my possessions, that is. I need to start paring down. My nieces are not going to be happy with me after I die if I don’t get rid of some of my collection.

  4. The most cluttered place in my house is my walk-in closet. Two years ago we downsized to a little house and got rid of a ton of stuff. I’ve tried hard not to hang onto items that would be better off elsewhere, but of course, that hasn’t happened. I just stick it into my closet and hope to make a decision on it later. That hasn’t happened. The book sounds very interesting and your review is excellent. It’s hard to realize how soon we are forgotten but already I have only hazy memories of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Sad.

  5. I tend to be a keeper as well. I think part of the reason is that for years I didn’t have anything of my grandparents to remember them by, so I kind of overdo having stuff for my posterity to remember me by. And twice my parents left almost everything all behind (long story) so that some things I would have liked to have kept (like my baby book) are gone. Plus I tend to be sentimental and, like you said, think there surely is SOME use for this thing. But I have gotten better over the years. Once I was looking at the stack of Sunday School papers my oldest son had brought home over time, and thought, you know, if I keep every single one, I’ll never go through them, and I’ll never remember which ones were the most special. But if I keep the most special or representative ones, then we may indeed enjoy looking through them again. And I applied that to their schoolwork over the years as well. That helped a lot.

    Another aspect is that we do have storage room right now. I have a closet full of decorating items I don’t use right now but am not willing to get rid of yet (Who knows when the country look will come back in? 🙂 ) If we needed to downsize, which we well might when my husband retires some years in the future, I would not have any trouble parting with them then. But I don’t have an urgent need to have that closet empty, so they stay. I get really frustrated with books and posts and such with “rules” about what to keep and what to get rid of. Suggestions are one thing, but if I want to keep a thing, I will (not saying this book is like that, but I have heard of some that are, or seen people compelled to go by someone’s else’s system of what to keep).

  6. This is a very painful post for me to read. It just hurts! What is my most cluttered area(s)? My craft room is a disaster. Occasionally I kinda tidy it up and before I know it, it’s blown up – again. For one thing, I scrapbook there and I sew there – sometimes using the same areas. Once I was apologizing to a granddaughter about what a wreck the room was in. She said, “I LOVE this room!” That sure did my heart a lot of good! My other huge disaster is my garage. For a couple reasons, I cannot clean it out thoroughly as I did in the past – once a year.

  7. Great review! Makes me think of 2 stirred–Ihours about Caroline throwing out her 4 H ribbons and mine that it took 2p minutes to decide the fate of nearly 90 years of my grandmother’s possessions. Aside from one sentimental item list by accident, I haven’t missed much that I have away 8 1/2 years ago to move here. But I “missed” them like missing an old friend, not like loosing a leg. Let go and it will free you, I promise.

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