Clutter is now the 8th Deadly Sin. If you want to misbehave these days you dont need to cheat on a spouse or rob a bank you simply have to hoard too much stuff.
It starts with the premise that order is good and clutter is bad; and clutter that leads to losing track of stuff is serious, not funny. So we watch television shows about how to throw things out, we scramble off to Canadian Tire to acquire attractive storage bins, and we develop categories of value so we can quickly determine what to toss, recycle, or (as a last resort) store.
The truth isstuff comes into your home, often uninvited and in many cases not because of your own indulgence. When I take a careful look around my home Im surprised at how much came from somewhere else. Truckloads, for example, arrive from school. Like mud stuck to our childrens shoes, were inundated with notices, projects, even returned lunchbox scraps. Some items, excluding the lunchbox scraps, we stick on the fridge or attempt to keep. With child number one, we carefully placed art projects in a file destined for a shiny new basement bin. After child number five, we cut out the middle step and surreptitiously placed most of the paperwork in a recycling bin.
We passed through an organization stage a few years back when we purchased bins, wall units, and storage systems. We mistakenly thought this would contain the multiplying hoards of toys and memorabilia. It didnt. Then we tried garage sales. Every household on our block put their stuff on the front lawn and exchanged it for other stuffusually the same items recycling back. My electric bun warmer returned to me three times before I hid it in the garbage.
The list of what has gone missing each year is endless, the fault of mass confusion combined with creeping forgetfulness. One year we accidentally removed one son from his special education program because I forgot to return the form. Another child was suspended from school because we didnt sign a vaccination document. Weve managed to keep a receipt for everything weve ever bought except, of course, the items that broke or were the wrong size. I accidentally threw my new cell phone in a lake one warm July morning because it was tucked in my pants pocket. I did manage to revive it, only to drive over it several months later (it didnt survive that time). A year before, I lost my office phone, a clunky cordless phone that I somehow misplaced in the washing machine.
Even as children grow older, the stuff doesnt diminished. We continued to store our lives in our basements, our attics and our closetsironically in those same places that still store some of our own parents stuff; items our moms, dads, even grandparents couldnt bear to part with.
Im beginning to finally realize that a well-cluttered life means a life filled with people, and the stuff that seems, inevitably, to gather about them. Our stuff is actually part of who we are human dandruff we produce, whether we like it or not. Sure we can shed some of it as we move along, but for the most part, it belongs with us because it is part of our lives, past, present and future. It reminds me of when refugees flee their homelands they often carry a small item with them to remember what they left behind. And busy CEO executives are encouraged to pack a few items from home in order to settle better in their hotel rooms at days end.
My messy conclusion is that we all live in chaos and for the most part, we should fee proud of a home that shows signs of a struggle. There are consultants who make a living helping people organize their homes. But every day Ill remind myself that uncontrolled clutter mixed with a certain degree of confusion represents the richness of my life, not the struggle. The real gift is to know how to live with and enjoy that reality, not eliminate it altogether.
Canadian Association of Women Executives & Entrepreneurs
June 2008-June 2010