National Clutter Awareness Week ended yesterday. Here’s what I learned during my six-month attempt at decluttering: Form a clear intention and serendipitous situations arise to help you realize it. Three examples:
Minutes before I scoot out the door for an out-of-town shopping trip, a friend phones. “Grab some good used clothing,” she advises. Somehow she’s discovered that the store I’m planning to visit will deduct 20% off the price of one item for every lightly used garment I donate. I don’t have time to sort through my closet. What can I grab? How about the wool scarf and hat set I knitted for my mother shortly before she died? At the store seeing Mom’s hat and scarf in the bottom of the almost empty charity bin makes me feel as forlorn as they look without her. Later, the sight of the overflowing bin cheers me. So does buying two exercise tops at 20% off. It’s almost like Mom and I shopped together one last time—and we didn’t even quarrel in the dressing room.
Late afternoon on St. Patrick’s Day, I check my email and learn that instead of clicking needles that evening, my knitting club will click glasses while dining at a Mexican restaurant. We’ll be officially recognizing the newly single status of one of our members, and the email suggests we laud her with small, gag gifts. It’s too late to shop, so I dig through my Near East dance stash. A hip belt studded with silver beads and seashells springs into my hands. I tuck it and my Bellydance Superstars CD into a shoebox, which I wrap in a fringed, red-and-purple hip scarf. At the restaurant, though many of us toast our friend with water instead of margaritas, we all grow rowdy as she opens the presents we’ve brought her. No one dances on the table, but we feel like we could.
Professional organizer Jennifer Robb, who founded Simple Organizing Strategies in Iowa City, emails me after reading about my clutter problem in The Iowa Source. Months later, during National Clutter Awareness Week, she and her associate Sandy Rackis stop by while visiting my town. Although they don’t know it, their visit fulfills my secret clutter-busting goal: to feel comfortable allowing guests into every room in my home. Exposing cabinet drawers and closets to Jennifer and Sandy is easy, partly because they’re nonjudgmental and partly because I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished. My clutter isn’t gone, but I’ve reduced and contained it. At the door, before they leave, I tell them about a big ugly bowl that belonged to my grandparents. Broken, badly glued, and with a small chunk missing, it’s half of a set. The other half, an intact white pitcher, looks good, nestling in the base of an old oak hall tree. “Would you like us to take it?” Jennifer asks, as I show her the bowl my father once treasured. Stress melts away as I hand it over. Like the bowl and the set, old patterns are breaking.
In six months of uncluttering, I did less than yet more than I intended. Clutter-busting is an ongoing process of discovery: it helps us live in the present and gives us the power and space to let magic happen.