Commentary On 2/17/15 New York Times Editorial: The Clutter Cure’s Illusory Joy


Notwithstanding partial disagreement with its premise, I quite enjoyed Pamela Druckerman’s article on clutter in todays’ New York Times. Full article on this page. Not surprisingly, clutter has become a problem in many countries. It is noteworthy that the notion of ridding ourselves of accumulated physical clutter has gained momentum in recent years. The author refers to the existence mental types of clutter, as a sign of the times, such as “…unreturned emails; unprinted family photos; the ceaseless ticker of other people’s lives on Facebook; …and the suspicion that we’ll be checking our phones every 15 minutes, forever.”

The article concludes with a premise, “I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was. Less may be more, but it’s still not enough”. To me, ditching “all our stuff” should never be the goal. In my view and experience, less may very well be enough. I am convinced many (but not all) will experience great joy, freedom, liberation and transformation from improved organization of ones’ physical accumulation and/or mental clutter. The key to whether this will be YOUR experience, is whether YOU were bothered by clutter to begin with. The magnitude of happiness and freedom you will experience, I believe will be proportionate to your previous feelings of guilt, shame, chaos and overwhelm. Someone with mounds of paper on and around their desk, but who is ok with it or even prefers it, may not be happy at all when everything is “put away”. But, the couple who is ashamed to have company over, who feels guilty about the enormity of their “stuff”, will likely be elatedr when these barriers are removed. Only YOU can determine the proper balance of order needed in your life. For me, if I have space for it, it doesn’t live on my floors or counters, I know what I have and I don’t feel crowded by my things, I’m good.

Equally illuminating were the 100’s of reader comments following the article. The quoted excerpts below were among my favorites because they were thought provoking, amusing, eloquent, practical or heart-warming. As you read them, perhaps ponder what you think are the benefits of becoming more organized? If the results are fairly well maintained, do you think the benefits will or will not have lasting profound effects on your overall happiness?

Quoted excerpts from selected reader comments:
…whereas George Carlin said clutter was essentially a question of ownership (“get your s**t away from my stuff”), this article suggests people are finally getting sick of even their own stuff.

Freedom is worth more to me than any pile of possessions could ever be.

Digital clutter is real clutter, so any decluttering efforts need to include both the earth and the “cloud.” We can’t let digital’s “false invisibility” fool us into thinking it doesn’t count…

…a cluttered life extends beyond things, it’s a lifestyle.

For me the point of decluttering isn’t to try to discover my “higher” self; rather, it’s to help me better manage and take advantage of the limited time I have, both in the near term and over the arc of my life. It’s about setting priorities and taking control of my own narrative.

Every unwanted and/or unneeded item that exits my home for a better home makes me feel lighter and happier.

All this clutter is going to be a terrible problem…for my children.

When it was all done, I felt lighter than air…space to me is a great luxury.

Paring down means making room to ponder what truly represents us, on all levels. Letting go includes ditching socially conditioned ways of thinking and living that keep us trapped in someone else’s idea(s) of what a fulfilling life “should” be.

Less to clean and I can find what I need. Perhaps many of us had bought too much stuff due to the onslaught of advertising, commercialism, consumerism, and an attempt to fill holes in our hearts.

With respect to my parents, what’s in my heart is more important than what’s in my home.

Less opens the doorway to an expanded currency of more time instead of things.

Moving is the secret to clearing away excess. When you gotta pack it up, pick it up, put it down, unpack it and find a place to put it, the hard choices are easy to make.

Mind clutter IS the bigger problem.

The hardest thing is balance; you do need to cull…whatever you have to much of in an on-going way

Yes. I might use those 47 empty boxes that I’ve accumulated over the last year along with that extra-large garbage bag of packing peanuts…but it’s unlikely. Hence, it is garbage that needs to be recycled and put to *use*

I have some keepsakes close to my heart which takes minimum space.

Having some old stuff around to remind you of where you came from, your grandmother etc., or how pretty you were when you were younger, is very comforting”.

I have a photograph of our 1875 sq ft loft before we and our stuff moved in. I want that space back!

I have tried to rid myself of most of the things that, even though they once might have meant a great deal to me, probably will not to those I leave behind.

…it is far harder than I thought it would be when I first started. Decluttering often has taken the way of “do you want this” asked of everyone in the family. All ‘no’ it gets tossed. Any ‘yes’ and it becomes their problem.

After I’m gone, I am hoping…the dumpster won’t have to be too large to hold what they will throw away.

…for everything that comes in, something of equal size must go out, so every new item is a ‘replacement item’. What beautiful vase am I willing to part with for this beautiful vase? Or book? Or sweater? Helps focus the mind.

On the plus side, I have friends enjoying comic books and magazines, people have furniture that they can use, animal shelters have money from selling teddy bears, my colleagues at work wear my mother’s costume jewelry, and there are men fighting their way back from adversity wearing my husband’s suits to job interviews. All help me to feel better about these losses, but it is profoundly selfish to leave so much crap for your survivors to have to deal with.

…just taking a photo of the stuff before giving it away has helped me declutter so much more!

Because we spent a few years slowly getting rid of about half of what we own, we’ve been able to move to a much smaller home. This frees up time as well as money.

When you walk up on the porch, and it is filled with old TV’s, broken furniture and other detritus the occupants are probably poor. When you walk into a sparsely furnished house with lots of open space it is generally a sign of wealth.

My jewelry box, for example, contains some heirlooms and some junk. How are they to know the difference between their great-grandmother’s broach and one I picked up at a yard sale?

Keep only what is beautiful or useful. I would add to that: keep also sentimental objects that bring you memories and joy.

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