Clutter. It was everywhere I looked. I spent a day (a whole day!) fighting it off, but it rolled right back in like a peeping-Tom wave to a nude beach.
This phenomenon is known in family circles as the “clutter factor (CF).” Here’s the formula:
(Number of people in the living unit) to a factor of pack-rat lineage
(The volume of the clutter container)
Screw the math: If you buy too much stuff, never get rid of it, work and/or go to school, and have a lot of busy people under one roof, your Clutter Factor is high. My husband said I obsessed over it, but then, I saw it, he didn’t. (Neither did the boys.)
When the kids were home, my husband and kids focused on their work, their studies, their music, and their hobbies. I worked, too, but I railed at the insufferable encroachment of detritus as the work/school week wore on. On Monday, it seeped in the back door; by Tuesday, it washed through the living area; Wednesday found it sloshing into the bathrooms; and on Thursday, it surged into the bedrooms. By Friday, we were neck deep in it, barely able to crane our necks above it to carry on a conversation. Newspapers, laundry, homework, music, bills, projects, books, invitations, purchases, and pets whirled and spun through the churning sea of our busy lives. Weekends sighed in hopes of stemming the tide. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes they didn’t.
The Clutter Factor had (and still has) a companion that lurks shamefully in my very own personality. This sin sister is what I call the “Project Factor.” I own this one. I have three to five projects besides work on the front burners at all times – volunteer stuff, hobbies, things to write, things to read, and more. Because all of these contain anxious due dates, their associated files and piles dot the house like seagulls at a picnic. I am a contributor to the clutter! There, I said it.
To overcome the reprehensible clutter side of myself, I invoked my alter ego, “Buffy the Clutter Slayer”— who is still alive and well. Buffy wields trash sacks and Goodwill bags, and tears as if possessed through the house. Her ruling mantra: “If I haven’t seen it move in the last five minutes, it’s clutter and it’s history.” We lost a cat one year. She was too slow.
One summer, Buffy and I cleaned out the garage in a flurry of self-righteous de-cluttering. My family didn’t speak to either of us for three weeks after that: Buffy threw out their valuable stuff that they hadn’t used since we had moved in. Buffy wanted to move. I said we had to stay. Good lord, we’d have to corral the stuff and box it. I didn’t have the energy!
Here’s the deal: Our clutter defined us, and tried to control us, but with Buffy around, it shouldn’t defeat us. Some days, I actually reveled in our clutter: it told me we were busy and doing. I didn’t trust people whose houses were too clean: they weren’t supporting the American economy, I’d argue.
The very next day as I looked across the burgeoning heaps, I grabbed myself by the collar, pulled myself just an inch or so off the ground and said, “Civilized people don’t live this way.” I strained toward civility as Buffy cleaned out a drawer. I wondered if I would ever live a Spartan, monkish existence, wearing a robe with no underwear, and murmuring all day. I wondered if that would make me happy. Probably not. I wondered if it would be okay to have at least one clean room. One? Okay, I’ll take a closet. No? Then, give me a drawer. I’ll take anything.
It’s a lot of stuff!
Those days are gone. Well almost. The kids are grown and out of the house, but their clutter remains. And while it’s contained in the attic and the garage, mostly boxed with labels, waiting to move on to the next phase it’s still here! I don’t miss the clutter in the house, that’s for sure. But when we’re feeling like we need a fond reminder of what it was like to have noise and craziness filling our space, Buffy and I go up to the attic and look at what remains. It’s a lot of stuff. We sigh. And then we shake our heads, with thoughts of the cat we lost. After we clean up a little, we check to make sure our new dog is still around, we give each other a high five and walk through the house, mostly clear of clutter.
Oh… but don’t look in the guest room closet, please.