Who Really Needs Self-Help? Clutter Freaks, Or Minimalists Obsessing Over Clutter Freaks?

Debra-Lynn B. Hook
Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Debra-Lynn B. Hook makes peace with the clutter in her home and office over the objections of well-meaning friends and family.


Apparently I am morally deficient, a fact that comes by way of my full-to-bursting bedroom closet by way of people who have made an industry out of analyzing such things.

Inside my linen closet is a stack of pillowcases that could outfit a large B&B instead of the current two bedrooms in use. I own 67 tablespoons, enough drinking glasses for five Thanksgiving tables, and 32 cereal bowls. My friend once told me the packed walls of my living room looked like an art gallery.

She did not mean that as a compliment.

Nor did another friend when she told me if I ever wanted to pare down the aforementioned bedroom closet, she would help.

Oh, the critics. The rebukes. The cascade of self-righteousness that hovers around such things as my late stepmother’s ugly Christmas figurines I keep but never use and the box of stuff I saved from my office desk, circa 1992.

My name is Debra-Lynn.
And I am not a minimalist.

Which puts me not only out of favor with declutter queen Marie Kondo, but apparently deeply troubled.
Thing is, I don’t feel deeply troubled.

Even if I’d never display such kitschy things on my mantel, seeing Grandma Peg’s Precious Moments elves nestled in the Christmas linens every year keeps her in my memory. Likewise, my office desk, which can elicit “fond” memories of newspaper deadlines anytime I open the box. As for my closet, I am van Gogh every morning, choosing from dozens of color combinations and designs.

What if I don’t want help?
What’s more, what if I don’t think I need help?
Could it be they’re the ones who need help for feng shui-ing the kitty litter and caring that everybody else does, too?

Clearly Americans have a tendency to overconsume. Clearly simplifying never hurt anybody — until it became a tool for separating the good guys from the bad. Sparked by Kondo’s 2014 “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” minimalism has become not just a trend but a far-reaching morality play, aided by millennials determined to leave less of a carbon footprint and by a slew of self-help books, blogs and businesses dedicated to the concept that less is best for the soul. Decorate like a pauper, you’re hip. More than three things on the mantel, you’re out of touch and a second-rate world citizen.

The way I see it, there are fine lines here between say, clutter and hoarding or clutter and liking nice things. Some people compensate for emptiness inside by filling the guest room with Hello Kitty lunchboxes they never use. As for me, it’s not like I never throw anything away or that my house always looks like Goodwill after a tornado (though sometimes the basement does).

It may simply be that I like things on the wall, on the mantel and on my bedside table. I like collectibles. I I like knowing a book I started in 1996 but never finished is there if I ever want to go back to it.

When all is said and done, I get stressed around people whose house looks like a Target commercial. I’m afraid to breathe lest something fall down.

I’m more comfortable around stuff, and maybe that bears looking at. But I don’t think it means I need rehab. Just because I don’t want to go through my closet and ask myself if that shirt brings joy doesn’t mean I need therapy.

I don’t want you telling me to do that either.

The way I see it, coexisting with spoons and pillowcases is as individual as the spoons and pillowcases we collect.

You stay on your side of the closet.
And I’ll stay on mine.
If I can get in there.

(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988.)

Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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