Crossing the Line: When Does Clutter Become Something Else?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no Martha Stewart. I’m a messie, not a cleanie. I’ve lived with cleanies, and believe you me, it’s no fun. I’m sure the cleanies say the same thing about me. Actually, I know they say that. And more.

I lived with a messie for almost 30 years. It was great; we never fought. We also seldom had a tidy home.

Now that I’m alone, I’m trying to neaten up my lifestyle. It’s not easy. I used to collect lots of things: frogs, pigs and Boston Terriers, along with books. Lots and lots of books. And I have a weakness for buttons. And keys. And bright, shiny colored things.

My late husband was another kind of collector. Where I collected things, he collected stuff.

What’s the difference, you ask? Mostly point of view, I think. From my point of view, my things, while not necessarily functional, are pretty. Or cute and whimsical. They make me smile. They remind me of the people who gave them to me, or who I was with when I bought them.

His stuff, on the other hand, (remember, still my point of view) was usually neither functional nor pretty. It was mostly dirty, rusty and strange.

“But why?” I’d ask about the alley finds he’d drag home. “What in the world are you gonna do with that?”

“It’s art,” he’d reply. Or, “I can build shelves with this.” (What is it with guys and shelves anyway?)

My point is that there is really no right or wrong when it comes to clutter. One man’s art is another woman’s memories. Minimalist is no better—or worse—than the comfortable chaos of books and nik naks.

But there is a line that is easily crossed when collections and clutter go from messy to dangerous. People are killed by their own clutter. They sicken from decades of accumulated paper dust and mold. Boxes of books and magazines setting too close to furnaces or water heaters catch on fire, and the fire department is unable to get equipment into homes because of this clutter.

And there’s a psychological line, too, that we all need to be aware of. It’s when the want becomes need. That’s addiction, and it’s more than a thorough clearing and cleaning can fix. But that’s another post for another day.



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