Book: Year of No Clutter

Year of No Clutter (Amazon, $9.99) felt like an aptly inspirational title to help motivate me to trim down my house. Like all techies and moms, I am surrounded by outdated equipment (that is occasionally useful) and boxes of “precious” artwork by my “artistically gifted” children, including single crayon scribbles on a page (post modernism) and several thousand RCA cables.

My kids lean towards hoarder tendencies. (“No, you can’t possibly throw that away. I drew it for you!” and “I won that precious partially-destroyed plastic trinket by playing carnival games all day!”). These I must fight with action, as reason goes only so far.

For me, I often lack the time to sort, organize, and toss my things that have become outdated, especially when there’s a real cost to replacing them when they’re eventually needed. (Quick, how many Firewire cables do you own? 30-pin iPod cables? I have too many, but sorting and disposing is hard.)

My go-to solution has long been to put things into boxes and then move them downstairs into the crawlspace. From “memory boxes” to “stuff I don’t use any more”, it’s become a desperate habit of clearing out space.

If I could, I’d go on a rampage throwing things out. The physical and time commitments to make this happen have been overwhelmingly daunting.

Schaub’s book reflects a slightly contrasting reality in that she’s taking on a different kind of clutter. Her Hell Room(TM) represented a “disposophobic” reality, of her well intentioned safety net. She freely calls it a “giant ridiculous mess”. It was stuffed both with items of potential use and necessary memory.  Each hoarded item had a history, and a story, and a connection to her life.

Her memoir offers an amusing tale of the steps in letting go. It’s a record of catharsis and finding the things that actually matter. If you’ve ever looked at a pile of ancient soy sauce packets, trying to decide whether to organize them or toss them, her story will resonate with your experience.

The most interesting thing about the book are the discoveries, where removing surface levels of clutter revealed real treasures and memories, allowing them the priorities they deserved. From family silver to handwritten letters, decluttering has a tendency to hit us in the emotions.

Throughout, Shaub scatters useful little charts and how-to’s. Things you use on a regular basis should have a place to live, and a regimen to restore it to that place after use:

In sum, the book is a conglomeration of reminiscences, self-reflection, how-to, and coaching. There are some delightfully amusing bits and some parts that kind of slog. I particularly enjoyed the section on “The Weirdest Things I Own”. I enjoyed it as a “library read” but I don’t know if I’d purchase it for re-reading.

I probably won’t ever match my own Mom’s ideal of “When in doubt, throw it out”, but the more control I take over our clutter, the better we’ve been able to function as a family.  I want to own things, not have my things own me.

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