Do you assume a professional organizer’s house must be perfect? Not a teaspoon out of place, everything stowed in pristine Container Store finery at all times? After last week’s blog post about living with a packrat, I heard from quite a few of you asking if I play by the same rules. And behind the question, I can feel the frustration – it’s all very well for you, you’re a professional organizer, I just know your house is perfect and your family sticks to the rules, unlike my messy house and chaotic life.
I get that we all compare ourselves with each other and most of us feel we come up short. So would it help if I pointed out that all the photos on my blog are taken in my own house? If I’m challenging you to let go of something, it’s because it was there for me to declutter myself. Would you get a delicious shiver of shadenfreude if I told you that my husband would happily keep everything sentimental he’s had since kindergarten?
Long ago, so long ago there wasn’t even a job title of professional organizer, I realized that although I’m no minimalist, I don’t want to see everything I own out on display at all times.
And yet that was my husband’s favorite decorating style. A room that felt cozy and comforting to him felt stifling and busting at the seams to me. We’d started off his way so part of our unspoken compromise was that since I was the one who wanted to make a change, I was the one who charted the new path.
It helped that we relocated every two years or so (not a military family but we’ve moved that often) and so I kept getting a fresh start. At first, I’d try to replicate the first home each and every time, so it felt like home. And then it occurred to me that I could make some changes.
As it got further and further from our two years in Egypt, maybe we didn’t need to display every last trinket and souvenir we’d picked up there. As we got more confident in our own decorating style, it was easier to leave the passed down furniture we’d been grateful to have when we first started out.
It also helped that I’ve never, ever, not even once thrown out something behind my husband’s back. So, the trust level was there for when I started “tote-ifying” things we didn’t need on display. He knew I wasn’t tossing his treasures, I was just storing them safely.
We didn’t have an extraordinary amount of stuff to deal with. Substantial but not out of control. And no one was demanding that I hold onto trash. He just thought everything was a vital souvenir. All the business cards a local news reporter collected over 25 years? Each one was a memory of an interview. All the leaflets from hiking trips? Precious reminders of fun times. The jacket he wore when he interviewed Gaddafi out in the Libyan desert? Impossible to separate from the act. And so those totes are packed full, with not an inch to spare and there are many of them. I know perfectly well they’ll never be opened again, but if he ever wants to go hunting for things, he’ll find them.
That’s my compromise. My husband’s compromise is that he doesn’t get to display everything he’s ever had, but he’s okay with that – he wants to have it, not necessarily see it. And over the years, he’s become more selective about what he keeps in the first place.
When I’m off duty for daily picking up and decluttering, things accumulate at astonishing speed because he doesn’t have the same level of intolerance for clutter that I do. But the big secret is I like him for so much more than his organizational skills. He’s supported our family through thick and thin for over 30 years, through the crises that all of us have had or will have. Health challenges, kid issues, you name it, we’ve weathered it. I know he’s got my back, and I’ve got his. Perhaps it’s the fact that we’ve both been through high level cancers makes a difference, but whether or not he holds onto his stuff isn’t really significant. He doesn’t leave clutter out to spite me, I pick up because it makes me feel better not to one-up him.
Why am I telling you all this? I want you to put clutter in its place. Literally, because I’m an organizer and I think you’ll be happier if your home is safe and you can find things. And metaphorically. It’s really not such a big deal if things are cluttered.
I know some of you are living in situations you find intolerable. The clutter has passed beyond cute and there’s the reality of the mental issues behind the keeping.
But most of you are just dealing with a mismatch. Opposites attract and it’s no different when it comes to clutter.
There’s no one goal for how decluttered a house should be. No internationally agreed upon standard. The sooner we stop comparing ourselves to anyone else, the better. Who knows, when you stop holding onto clutter in reaction to what anyone else thinks, you may be freed up to realize you actually don’t like it very much yourself.