January 8, 2006

Clutter Conquers All

Wherever Monica goes, clutter shall follow.

I am a danger to myself and others. Invite me into your pristine home and watch random items appear on your bookshelves, coffee table, and any other exposed surface.

My own house is a baffling array of small objects which have taken on lives (and reproductive cycles) all their own. In the time I've been writing this, a camera case and a set of picture hangers have spontaneously given birth to a French card game and some sticks of incense on top of my ironing board.

Today, I made some small steps toward progress. I finally threw away the 2002 Franklin-Covey planner pages that have been on my bookshelf since, I would imagine, 2002. I bought an under-bed storage unit so I can put at least some objects out of sight, out of mind. And, in my semi-competent amateur psychologist way, I decided to self-diagnose.

I actually think that my clutter magnetism is not a single disorder, but rather a combination of minor malfunctions, including:

Selective Object Blindness - SOB is the complete inability to perceive certain objects despite having no physical or visual obstructions. It is most common with objects that have been in the same place for an extended length of time, and ensures they will stay there.

Example: For both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I prepared somewhat formal dinners in my home. Both times, Sam and I thoroughly cleaned the kitchen, removing extraneous appliances and foodstuffs from the counters before I started cooking.

My ability to create clutter intensifies when I cook. Spices I don't use and utensils I don't recall owning pop up on every speck of counter space. As the guests showed up for Christmas Eve dinner, I frantically enlisted a friend's help in clearing off some counter space on which I could set the food I was taking out of the oven.

"Where should I put this birdseed?" she asked.

I was baffled. A twenty-pound bag of birdseed was sitting on the kitchen counter, plain as day. I racked my memory and realized that I had purchased the birdseed in September, intending to fill the feeder before we left for Europe. For over three months, the bag had been on my kitchen counter. Through two holidays, at least one professional housecleaning, and all the times I had cooked dinner, at no point had I noticed the birdseed or bothered to move it.

Value Attribution Error - A variation of the "sunk cost" theory, an irrational tendency to hold on to worthless objects because they cost money or had value at one time.

Example: Almost three years ago, the rechargeable battery on our cordless phone gave out. After several months of fuzzy 30-second conversations consisting of me shouting "I'll call you back on my cell phone!", I finally bought a replacement battery for around $20. It was the wrong kind. I kept the receipt so we could exchange it, but the receipt got lost. Shortly afterward, we got a new phone.

To this day, the unopened battery which didn't fit the phone I no longer use is still sitting on my nightstand. I can't bring myself to throw it away. It cost me $20 two years ago. Consider inflation, and it might be worth even more. Or less, since I doubt anyone makes that model of phone anymore, and even if they did, I don't own one.

Product Separation Anxiety - A powerful hoarding instinct, especially over discontinued or hard-to-find products, resulting in retention of those products long past their expiration date.

Example: When I was in college, my favorite beauty products came from Garden Botanika. In 1998, they began abandoning some of my favorite body care lines. By 1999, the store was bankrupt.

Dig deep in my closet, and you will find a wealth of Garden Botanika products. Now, I'm not the kind of person who would actually use eight-year-old body cream (in part because I tried and it made my skin burn), but it's only recently that I have found the courage to start throwing away those items.

This afternoon, I looked in a neglected shoebox and found a bottle of scented body spray. It was so old that all the writing had worn off the bottle, so I spritzed some on my hand. I immediately recognized the scent as Tranquil Breezes, a fragrance that Victoria's Secret discontinued three years ago. My hand did not itch or burn, so I decided to keep the body spray. I doubt I'll use it, because it may be the last Tranquil Breezes product in existence, but I can't part with it either.

Recipient's Guilt - The inability to distance oneself from completely undesirable items that one received as gifts.

Example: Getting married brought much joy, love, and celebration. It also brought gifts from well-meaning people who didn't really know me or my taste. Candlesticks that belong in a 1920s bordello. Precious Moments figurines. A picture frame too horrific to describe here.

I don't even remember who bought me these gifts, but I am terrified that if I threw these items away or sold them, the gift givers would somehow find out and have their feelings hurt. Whereas, I can make fun of their gifts on my blog without the slightest twinge of guilt.

Clutter-Related Paralysis - The inability to conquer clutter due to an excess of clutter; a vicious circle of disorder.

Example: Every few months, I decide it's time to get organized. I buy a book or watch a TV show that provides helpful hints, I buy some shelves or Rubbermaid containers, and I plan for a weekend of de-cluttering.

I take a deep breath and consciously override my Selective Object Blindness to take a look at my house.

With the SOB gone, I begin to see things that don't belong. The spare boxes of Kleenex on the dining room floor. The cordless drill in the living room. The broken Christmas ornament on top of the china cabinet. The mostly defunct lighters on every endtable. The pack of playing cards in my cosmetics case. The extra straps for a bra that no longer fits me. The shelves that I couldn't figure out how to hang. Cases for CDs I can't find. Scented candles that smell bad. Socks without partners. European currency....

And then it all becomes too much. I turn the S.O.B. back on, step around the sewing machine in the middle of the floor, and go write a blog. If the first step is admitting I have a problem, then I've made some progress today... Right?

1 comment:

Melanie said...

OHMIGOSH!!! This describes both my husband and I exactly!! Glad to know we are not the only ones... I am wondering though, since this blog entry was written years ago - have you gotten any better? And if so, give us some tips!! LOL.