Confessions of a sentimental clutter-holic

My name is Julie, and I am a clutter-holic.

I have written several times about the clutter pileup in my life. I blame it on my work (paper-intensive), my children (megastuff), my schedule (frenetic) and life in general.

Truth is, there are lots of people who have jobs, kids’ schedules and lives as busy as mine, and they don’t have an avalanche waiting to happen on their desks.

So I am here to admit that this most likely stems from a personality trait — or perhaps several:

1. Trouble with decisions. Not the big, life-changing ones (Will you marry me? Um ...), but the millions of small choices: chicken salad or turkey with brie? Large or extra-large? Robin’s egg or arctic blue paint?

The task of sorting, filing, shredding and deciding what to toss, what to keep and how to store it is, I find, overwhelming. Which leads to my second character flaw ...

2. Procrastination. Journalists build their lives around deadlines. There’s always something due, so we employ the triage approach, classifying tasks as “crisis,” “urgent,” “important,” “serious,” and “can be put off to some undetermined date.”

3. Sentimentality. Here’s the real problem. I can’t let go.

Sometimes in a fit of cleaning I’ll announce to the children that everyone has to find 10 things to donate to charity, lecturing them about kids in some faraway country who only wish they had a fraction of their toys. They know the drill and dutifully bring me a pile of toys that I then go through, saying things like, “But Aunt Clara gave you this,” or “Oh, I remember when we would read this together ... .”

A text from a friend who helped renovate my breezeway comes to mind. I had asked what I should do with the wires and supplies from the old light fixture, thinking they might be useful to someone.

“THROW OUT,” she texted. In caps. She knows me well.

I need help. Not the “Hoarders” kind of help, although my sister and I have nightmares about them showing up on our doorstep (“I mean don’t they have to warn you first?” she says).

I just need an organizer, a taskmaster — or maybe the crew from the former TV show “Clean Sweep.” The cast would come in, help sort your junk in the back yard Blog Photo(remember the “keep” “sell” and “toss” piles?), sell your excess at a yard sale AND redecorate your formerly cluttered rooms. In two days.

I used to watch it in morbid fascination, part of me wanting intervention, part of me horrified at the thought. All I could picture is a tug-of-war between me and the host over our old baby crib in the garage or the bins full of my kids’ school projects. It could get ugly.

They had lots of space-saving tips, like scanning your kids’ artwork or taking pictures of your favorite keepsakes before donating them. That works to an extent — my friend and I have done that with our girls’ favorite outfits — but there’s nothing like rubbing your cheek against that pink terry cloth sleeper or holding the love notes they’ve written you, full of misspellings and exclamation points and smudges, in your hand.

One episode still haunts me, in which the host persuaded a homeowner to take a photo of a clock that had been in his family for generations, then sell it. There goes history.

A closet in my mom’s basement holds an assortment of old clothes, including a smocked blue dress I wore as a child. My daughter wore it for several years until she outgrew it, too. You can’t wear a photo.

As we age, our memory goes, and there are entire episodes from my children’s lives that I don’t remember until I see some memento that triggers those brain cells. As I was going through their shelves recently I came across the “Corduroy” books and suddenly remembered the way my son used to call the doll “girlo.”

I kept that one, along with the bath books full of silly “Sesame Street” rhymes that my husband put to music, and the lift-a-flap books we read nightly, flaps now hanging by a thread.

I know they won’t want all of this stuff. I will cull. The key is to make choices — not my strong suit.

One of my goals this summer was to continue the flurry of cleaning and organizing that our relatives started in the spring. The sight of three huge bags of shredded paper was quite rewarding — as was the lovely dining room table that emerged from the pile (see photo above).

Before school starts, I promised myself, I’ll go through the boxes of school papers, clean out closets, get organized ....

School started this week, and we have relapse. It’s hard to keep up energy for these tasks.

So I’m thinking of forming a support group that can tackle projects at a different house each month.

Wanna be my decluttering buddy?

_________________

Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Housing, People

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on August 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm
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Point in case: "Triage" is inseparable from "three." But Julie just can't let go of a fourth option.

 

I feel your pain.

sweet caroline wrote on August 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

I could have written Julie's story about my own house, word for word.  On one hand, I want a year's worth of free housecleaning service.  On the other hand, I wouldn't let them in the door because I'd have to clean everything and pick up all the clutter first.  Thanks, Julie, for letting me know it's not just me!