Uh oh–another book that made me think a whole lot about my life. I’d better stop reading so much, right? Or, at least, stop reading so many thought-provoking books.
Do you have any clutter in your home? What about your office? What’s the definition of clutter to you? In this fantastic book, Eve Schaub not only defines it, but explores it and bares her soul in front of us all.
I don’t have a problem with admitting that clutter is an issue in my life. I think that everyone who’s honest would probably admit the same. I have far more stuff than space, and the task seems so daunting sometimes (usually) that it doesn’t even seem worth it to keep high-traffic areas (like the living room) clean and tidy. Especially with incredibly hectic work lives, my wife and I just don’t put in the effort. I’m starting to think that we aren’t alone, though, and this book helped me with that.
The author begins the book with a discussion of her pretty normal home, normal family, and normal life. The only thing is, she’s got a Hell Room. The Hell Room has accumulated all of her junk, her projects, and her husbands’ dozens of extra camera bags. Even a fair amount of items that most people would consider trash. So let me stop here–do YOU have a Hell Room? My wife and I do.
See, we live in a two bedroom townhouse. Over the last five or six years, it’s gradually become a one bedroom townhouse. That’s because there’s no reasonable way anyone could consider a room so packed with stuff to be living space. And like I said, when we come home after a very long week, or a very long month, it seems like an insurmountable goal to even go in there. So we generally don’t.
But reading Year of No Clutter let me see that there are more people like us out there–more people who have a room they’ve abandoned to their material goods. And there’s real power in that normalization. Schaub talks about how, even as she thought her secret shame was confined to that one room, it was actually pretty pervasive through the house, and her life. It’s become pretty trendy to watch Hoarders these days. But that isn’t especially fun (or funny) to me. I find that watching people who are helpless in front of their mountain of things isn’t enjoyable to me. If you have a spotless home, and only possess the things you need to own, more power to you. I think you’re in the minority, but congratulations to you. Many of us have too many things. Of course it’s on a spectrum–it doesn’t have to be at a pathological level. But if you saw my junk, or if I saw YOUR junk, we’d probably both be horrified. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
The author really made me think about the relationship I have with my stuff. And seen through the lens of her relationship with her stuff, it made a whole lot of sense. She discusses the fact that many of us worry about losing memories if we don’t throw away that ticket stub, or that t-shirt, or those ten bookshelves full of books. Because memories are so tied to our belongings, they can be incredibly hard to give away, throw away, donate, or sell. I have a huge amount of respect for Schaub’s honesty throughout her own process, even though she readily admits that she hasn’t fully beaten this thing even by the end of the book. Life is a messy thing, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll solve such a messy thing within a few hundred pages (or a year).
This book takes us on a journey with Schaub, through the various zones of the Hell Room and beyond, through her family’s relationship with their own clutter, and even took us to a brief interlude at a weaving retreat. I tore through the book pretty quickly, even for me. It was a very easy read, and full of humor (I laughed way more than I’d expected). I was fortunate enough to get my copy of Year of No Clutter for free, in exchange for this review. But don’t get me wrong–I’d gladly pay for it. I can’t recommend this fervently enough. If you’ve ever worried that you had too many books, or that your clothes have taken over your closet/room/hallway/upstairs, or that your collection of whatever has stopped being a collection, then buy this book.
I moved a lot as a kid, and so always had a transient relationship with my stuff. Stuff came into my life and left it just as easily, since it was so hard to bring things from country to country. I think I’ve amassed so much as kind of my artificial roots, binding me to the place I now live. My wife’s got her own reasons for collecting, which only exacerbates the problem.
The thing the author settles upon is this: clutter is only clutter when we have a thing that either doesn’t have a proper place to be, or has a place to be and isn’t in that place, AND when that thing intrudes into our living space and makes things more complicated for us. By that logic, it’s okay to keep your old ticket stubs. As long as you don’t have seven Rubbermaid containers full of them that sit permanently on your bed and your family sleeps around and under them. Which is totally a made-up example (I promise). You don’t need to feel guilty about having keepsakes, as long as those keepsakes don’t make you unable to live, or work, or function due to being so much in your way all the time. This was a revelation for me–I’m used to feeling guilty about having too much stuff. This book has given me the ability to think about our stuff in a less pathological way–I now believe that it’s possible to keep SOME of the stuff, and that it’s fine if we don’t live in an empty stainless steel loft with one plate, one spork, and a bed. That was a very empowering thing for me, and I owe Eve Schaub a debt for it. I feel that I can redefine what things I need, just because I like them or because they make me feel a certain way, and not feel guilty about wanting to hold on to some of them. As long as they aren’t in the way, that is.
So, hey–would you like a chance to win one of five free copies of this fantastic book? Check it out, courtesy of Sourcebooks!
If this sounds like something you need to read, then you’re probably right. Listen to your gut and pick it up. But read it quickly, before it disappears under a pile of your great-grandmother’s old quilts that you cannot part with because thread was in short supply during the Great Depression (when she bought them from your great-grandfather, who was a traveling quilt salesman). Fill in this paragraph with your particular brand of clutter, and you’ll understand perfectly what I’m talking about.