Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Reign of Clutter


If you type in “clutter” in Google or on Amazon, the list of hits is mind-boggling, and, of course, quite cluttered. I am as annoyed with the sources that suggest acquiring multiple “organizing tools” as a solution to clutter as with those who recommend buying a plethora of items to simplify your life. These sources have been screened for the commercial “solution”, and include some thoughts about attitude and community:

  • -No one can accuse the FlyLady of not being task oriented. But she also recommends time for breaks, and actually encourages slow progress!
  • -Here’s a great list of suggestions on where to donate all that stuff you clear.
  • -A piece I wrote on the clutter of technology.
  • -Here’s a blog on an author who decided to root for clutter in A Perfect Mess. I might not go that far, but he does make the argument that obsessing over organization can diminish creativity. (This has been true for me at times).


It’s been a cluttered week. Tom’s work schedule had him traveling and typing at all hours, and I felt worn thin from the pace of my own job. A Nor’easter left a coating of ice on everything. Inside, the sink has filled, the laundry has gone unfolded, and stacks of papers (Gavin’s art work, notices from school, paperwork to complete) obscure the kitchen counter.

The too frequent presence of clutter in our lives makes me stop and think about what is wrong. This is what feels wrong: being stingy with time for Gavin so I can catch up with the house, wondering if I will ever get time to write, rushing most of the time so I can fit a long list of tasks into a short period of time. It’s a common American malady, this race to the finish line that keeps moving, the “treadmill” lifestyle. Tom and I have talked about solutions to the physical clutter: a better routine, even a biweekly housekeeper (neither has happened: the crunch of time and money has precluded any tangible fix). This week I realized that, while the piles on the counter are very real, a lot of the problem is in how I frame it.

I appreciated Chris Bohjalian’s attitude toward his house (not to mention his fine writing) in Idyll Banter: Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town, a collection of his Vermont-based essays. Many house-related tasks he mentions are delayed, done at a minimum level, or not done at all. The guy sounds far from lazy, but he in effect shrugs and grins about his unchecked lists. I could use some of that.

I mopped some floors yesterday, and hand-washed a mountain of pots and pans too big for the dishwasher. It helps to be part of a team: Gavin took great pleasure in mopping (even the walls at one point) and vacuuming. We enjoyed the lemony smell of our clean floors and decided, despite the many unfinished tasks that beckoned, to get out and have some fun. We headed for Borders, for a café “date” and some stories in the kid’s section.

We stopped for a factory outlet White Sale first, for desperately needed new towels. We were both exhausted from our housekeeping. Gavin dozed in his booster seat, and I sat in the sunny parking lot, sighed, and stretched. The store could wait. Too wound up for a nap myself, I took great pleasure in the extra time Gavin’s nap allowed. I soaked up the satisfying warmth beaming through our car window. I started to sort out the yes, clutter, in my purse, and found unfinished Christmas thank you notes. In the warm, silent car, I thanked all who were generous with their gifts and with their thoughts, especially toward Gavin. These were the best thank yous I ever penned, because I wanted to write them. The sense of obligation was replaced with one of connection and awareness. This is a substitution that really satisfies: less I musts, more reflection and appreciation.

Right now I am reflecting and appreciating that I am on Day Two of a five-day weekend. I’ve got some closet cleaning slated for my time off. But there’s also family time today and tomorrow, and a day to myself on Tuesday. And the pleasure of fluffy new towels, many years overdue.


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