I like stuff. Lots of stuff. I have key collections and church key collections. I have scissors collections. I have cast iron pots from old wood burning cook stoves. I have political memorabilia – like my George Wallace ’68’ Tie. And check out my books. I moved to this home about five years age – and I brought two thousand books with me. Hey, I like books. So what is it with people who hoard ‘things’ – who place their ‘things’ around the house with indiscriminate frivolity? Is this just a value system learned in childhood, the symptoms of a life too busy to sort through the ‘things’, or are these people nuts and require treatment with Tiger Woods? And the more important question: Am I one of ‘those’ people?
The book shelves were custom built by me. Measurements were taken and shelves spaced accordingly – with the intention of maximizing space. By strategically aligning the shelves I was able to put about fifty more books on each four foot by six foot cabinet. What I did not realize at the time was that I was designing a wall of clutter. There is very little wasted space – but in hindsight it is quickly obvious that the book shelves look like a wall of clutter. About twenty of the books are in the category of self help. Two of those are about avoiding clutter.
The book shelves are in ‘my room.’ This is the place where I entertain myself. I read, play around on my keyboard, and every third day I lift weights (I can carry the keyboard with more ease than I can actually play music). The room is organized according to my wants and needs. This second picture is of shelves purchased at the local home-building store. Notice the extra space. This wall has a more appealing visual presence. I fixed that – I put my homemade weight bench in front of the shelves. My chair sits beside my cluttered lamp table. A blanket is flung across the chair arm. Music is scattered on top of my keyboard – I usually have three or four new songs I am practicing. Notice there are three lamps beside the keyboard – it is not like I need that much light – I just did not have anywhere else to put the lamps. A spare bedroom was converted into an office where I have more book shelves (and the desk where I presently sit).
None of my clutter is the result of being too busy. One might readily note that I have time to write this drivel – how busy can I be? But that is not the case with others. My children for example. My three children are all in their thirties – each of them with three children. School age children and toddlers. Now we are talking busy. My grandchildren are in sports (basketball, football, baseball), boy scouts (pine wood derbies, shirt badges, …), extracurricular school programs (Christmas plays, science club, science fair…), church (youth groups, Sunday serving…) Each of my children’s homes are two income – both parents work. The definition of clutter is different for these people than for old folks like me. For instance – yesterday my daughter came home from work, had to get her son to basketball practice at 5:30 and then to Cub Scouts at 7:00 (and she has two other children). Somewhere in there she had to prepare supper, help the children with school work, make sure showers were taken, and prepare for tomorrow. (You might note that I don’t take the time to set the date on my digital camera).
A psychological cottage industry has evolved from the busy life of modern parents. Here is a quote from Unclutterer.com:
Anxious people might have a need to hold on to things, depressed people might not have the energy to get rid of things, perfectionists might have a hard time because they fear the result won’t be perfect, and older people might have down-sized their living space without down-sizing their possessions, she says.
Depending on the severity of the cluttering, people might need professional help, or they might just need to take a good, hard look at themselves. If they don’t, they could find themselves in a vicious cycle.
“Clutter can cause depression and anxiety, and vice-versa,” Ragan says.
I have to ask myself – Am I anxious? Do I have a need to hold on to things? Am I depressed? Do I need professional help? (probably – but not necessarily because of clutter). And which came first, the clutter or the depression? I am that older person who downsized my living space without down-sizing my stuff.
The most important questions seem obvious to me – Does my stuff interfere with my life? Does my clutter inhibit my daily life? Am I embarrassed to have people come to my home to visit? (I invite my children over for dinner at least twice a year – their impending visit motivates me to clean my house). I should be more honest here – the only room in my house that experiences measurable clutter is ‘my room.’ And even in that room one might note that I am able to walk freely to take pictures. The pictures accurately reflect how the room looks on a daily basis with no visitors expected.
So when does clutter become hoarding? When does clutter disrupt your life? Well – that depends on your life. In my case ‘my stuff’ is not a problem (am I in denial?) Most people who hoard or have cluttered homes deny that there is any problem. Or they simply dismiss the clutter as a temporary situation. (I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.)
The Denver Post has a good article on clutter – here is a quote:
Getting organized may have more to do with psychology than piles of possessions, according to professional organizers and the people who hire them. From low self-esteem and an inability to make decisions, psychology shapes a person’s relationship to his or her space and stuff. So the key to more organized lives may lie within the gray matter of the mind.
Leeds has logged 20 years as a professional organizer. “Your home should be your sanctuary, your buffer against the world,” says this author who also calls herself a Zen organizer. “It is torture if you’re living in chaos.”
On a daily basis, organizers like Leeds suggest clients make simple, positive habit changes — such as washing and stowing dishes immediately after use, and making beds each morning to establish a foundation for an organized, healthy, effective life.