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 I think there should be recognition awards for lifestyle when it comes to clutter or the lack of it.  There should be a shapely statuette awarded for excellence in living clutter free as well as a certificate for outstanding achievement in creating chaos.  I might be a contender in either category, but never a winner.  Of course the winner in the clutter-free category would never take the prize home because it would clutter up the place and the certificate awarded to the winner for chaos would get lost in the piles of papers that are multiplying out of control on every surface in their house.

Let me tell you about my nominees.  I nominate Sharon D. and her husband Mort for the clutter-free award.  Several years ago a friend hosted a scavenger hunt for 8 couples.  We were divided into 4 teams and given a list of items to retrieve.  Mort and two other people I didn’t know were on my team.  We huddled in our corner reviewing the list, each of us ticking off the things we could contribute and strategizing the hunt.  I debated whether to embarrass myself but finally opted to fully engage in the game. So, despite the fact that it was a mess, I brought my 3 new friends to my house to gather some of the things on our list.  As we entered through the garage I apologized for the disorder.  In addition to all kinds of things you would typically find there, my garage was the repository of all kinds of paraphernalia otherwise known as junk. Everything I no longer wanted but couldn’t part with was hung on the walls or taking up floor space.  We had to pick our way through to find a path to enter the house. I quickly gathered my 2 contributions to the hunt—a Nat King Cole LP and an old-fashioned seltzer bottle–and the 4 of us proceeded to Mort’s house. 

When we entered his garage I was blown away.  I had never seen anything like it and was rendered speechless. It was hard to believe people could live this way. The garage was bare. Bare walls, a bare floor.  Nothing.  Zero. Zilch! There was no sign of life at all.  I know other people who live a similar lifestyle.  When I visit my sister-in-law in Florida and spend the night, I am afraid to put waste paper in the waste paper baskets because these containers sit there so pure and pristine daring me to defile them.  I stuff my dirty tissues into my pockets.  The newspaper gets delivered and can be found in the trash if you want to read it.  Every surface is free of paper.  Nothing is ever out of place.  It stresses me out.

In my house the living room is clutter-free, but the kitchen and den, where I spend most of my time, are populated with papers and books.  Sometimes, it is hard to find the tabletop.  One day my friend Marlene, who is the clutter-free type, came over.  She was in crisis.  Her husband had disappeared.  We sat in the kitchen making phone calls until we finally found him.  To calm herself down she repeatedly cleaned the papers we generated off the table while I spread them out to calm myself down.  We had opposite de-stressing techniques.  It was clutter combat!

But while I certainly qualify for creating chaos, I nominate Shirley B. as the champ.  Shirley accumulates mail for months without opening it; purchases treasures from QVC that she never unpacks, and lets dishes languish unwashed in the sink.  Although she is not a coffee drinker, she has 30 jars of coffee in her pantry that she got for free using double coupons at the supermarket.  She is a packrat who saves old newspapers and magazines just in case.

Thank God, I get to be clutter-free once every other Wednesday when Roxie comes to clean.  I am forced to sort through everything that is scattered around, putting it away so Roxie can do her thing.  It is a pleasure to come home after Roxie’s been there but it feels like someone else’s house. It doesn’t take me long to make it my own again.  I open the mail, and without fail, create the chaos that feels so familiar. Before long the tabletops sag under the weight of the books, catalogs, and daily junk mail.  It is amazingly satisfying when I put the first discarded tissue in my empty waste paper basket.

Barbara Plasker, EdD

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