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A tale of two spaces

I keep leaving comments on SRB’s Who Needs It! clutter challenge posts saying that I’m not participating, but the truth is, I am. In my own individual, self-paced, self-defined way. And that’s just what she intended, which I so deeply admire. It’s not an IMMA CHANGE YOUR LIFE forced march, it’s a Let’s Think About This Together supportive thingamajigger. This will probably be all I have to say about it, but I find I want to say it.

I do NOT naturally tend towards clutter. One of my heroes is Cordelia Grey, a PD James character. In An Unsuitable Job for a Woman Cordelia notes that she can fit her entire wardrobe in one suitcase. FUCK YEAH. Plus, instead of a social life, I tidy and organize. It’s a hobby. While you are all out having rich, interesting experiences, I am alphabetizing my neatly-pressed linen napkins. I enjoy tidying more than people. So you think I’d have nothing to have EMOTIONS ™ about when reading about clutter. But I swear these posts have been making me weep and gnash my teeth. WHAT THE FUCK! I poked around in my feelings, and they are VARIED, but the most relevant ones are:

1. Fear. My house will gradually fill with crap until I can’t move. My husband DOES tend towards clutter, you see. And babies tend to generate a certain quantity of shit. Left to my own devices I would be fine. But my devices are part of a whole family of devices.

2. Grief. One of the main clutter sites is the basement. It contains (aside from the neatly organized and stored tubs of holiday ornaments [no worries, the giant snake lives in the attic, where it’s dry], which cause me no angst)… The baby gear. I don’t know if it will be used again. Either possibility makes me cry. My dead dad’s stuff.

3. I am two people. More on this below.


1. When the time comes for me and Mr. Bunny to leave this house for the charming little in-law cottage on Bun Bun and/or Bunlet’s Tuscan property, where I will be surrounded by frolicking grandbunnies and olive trees, I will be ruthless as fuck. I have it in me, and I can unleash it. Now is not the time to worry about it.

2. Now is not the time to worry about it. I can’t deal with the baby pile. I am not ready to be done and I am not ready to not be done. I can’t make myself ready. I can’t deal with the Dead Daddy Pile. I am not ready. I can’t make myself ready. It may have to wait till we move to the Tuscan property. I don’t know. Now is not the time.

3. Part of me is controlled and needs order, and part of me is not and does not. Pictures are good for this. Here’s my closet.


And here’s my table in our studio.


The closet holds things I wear regularly and like, and that’s it. (Okay, and my journals, because they need  private spot, and a moth catching device, because we have moths, and Mr. Bunny’s shoes, because he needs a place to keep them.) The studio table is a pile of varied Stuff. Things that inspire me, things that need to be done, like the books the babies have torn, things that are full of meaning, like that awesome black cut glass item on the top shelf. It’s from my great grandmother. We call it the Chalice of Satan. It contains my dad’s ashes. These two kinds of spaces represent two sides of me, and neither can conform to the other. Sure, I tidy the studio space when it needs to be tidied. And other spaces in the house get messy when they need to get messy. But each serves a purpose for me.

There’s a study I share with my students that I love to death. Participants are randomly assigned to take a standard measure of creativity in two environments, a disorderly one and an orderly one. The very best part is the pictures of the environments, for example a table strewn with folders and golf pencils, and one with the folders and pencils neatly lined up. Adorable. I love social science. People in the disorderly environment did better on the measures of creativity. But on leaving, they were offered an opportunity to donate to charity, and an apple or a bar of chocolate. People in the orderly environment were more likely to donate and to choose apple over chocolate.*

There are two sides to STUFF. It feeds different facets of our souls. Mine, anyway. I don’t need to be all zen as fuck with just one mat to lie on and a rice bowl. I will never be swallowed alive by stuff. It’s okay. There’s an acceptable balance.

*Because they were randomly assigned, the findings are unrelated to the participants’ normal preference for order/disorder. Let me know if you want the reference.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. SRB #

    WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT! (She says, after reaching the end of the first paragraph before reading on). You go at your own pace…or not!

    Oh! But then… I didn’t mean to make you cry! That does, however seem to be a side effect of this though. I have cried A LOT and done NOTHING so far. So… yeah.

    “Now is not the time to worry about it.” YEP. You hang on to things exactly as long as you need them, and you take all the time you need to make those decisions. Not ready to deal with that box? Fuck that box. Put it in the basement. Look at it again later, with different, perhaps slightly more wrinkled eyes and a perhaps slightly lighter heart. Ready to deal with that box? GO TIME. I just finished a slightly less eloquent paragraph about the two sides of the STUFF coin on a post for tomorrow. Interesting, these mind bullets.

    Final thought: Love the collection of bird shirts. Like, a lot.

    January 28, 2014
  2. I come from a family of pack rats, some even worse than I am. But I just can’t buy the moral disapproval that, judging from my FB feed, clutter excites in many people. Living in a small apartment does force us to make some choices, but the bottom line is that things like your baby things and your dad things I feel no qualms at all about holding onto. Likewise the useful but bulky objects that relate to interests Sugar, the Bean, and I have. I’m not going to give up things I like to do just so my home looks like a magazine, you know? I think a lot of people here do make that trade-off, which strikes me as much sadder than a cluttered living room. Don’t even get me started on the consumption inherent in the ‘just get rid of it’ mentality — I was raised to hang onto things (made possible by the privilege of a settled life) because buying things more than once is wasteful. There’s this part in Virginia Woolf’s diary where her boots have worn out and she goes rummaging in a closet and finds a serviceable pair that belonged to some dead relative. And she reflects something like, can you believe there are people who buy NEW boots?

    January 28, 2014
    • Yeah. There’s a whole rich vein of feelings about the consumption dimension, and what it’s like to have been poor and now be rich, and my mother’s extremism about the moral purity of making do…that I elected not to get into. But suffice it to say, I’m not giving up my serger, even if someday I don’t have a separate space for it, and my house ain’t no magazine.

      January 28, 2014
  3. Will you come clean my closets please?

    I’m a neatnik who has reached a certain amount of peace with the clutter that goes along with having kids. But really I’d like your closet. And mostly we have laundry baskets full of stuff that needs to be put away…

    January 29, 2014
  4. Wow, your wardrobe… WOW! I need to throw/give away some items, but they still have some wear times in them, and I like my clothes. Even the ratty ones. My wardrobe is somewhat organised, but too full. And almost every time I decide to do something, I pull exactly that tshirt I got when I was living in Lyon with my husband, newlyweds, not that much money, but such a wonderful time of our lives. How can I NOT have the tshirt sit in my wardrobe no more? And so I give up. 🙂
    How have you been? Too busy, I know. But still. We miss you. Write more. Love. Bye.

    January 29, 2014
  5. Misfit Mrs #

    I am just hoping you have another closet for shoes and t-shirts. The Mr.’s closet is full, but ordered by shirt weight/sleeve length and color. Mine is tidy, but all over the place. I am an emotional clutterer. A good four years of my life were spent living on my grandmother’s converted porch with only a stuffed bear and a suitcase. My first bit of bought furniture made me sweat. I purge like a madwoman, so perhaps there is hope.

    I do find a scheduled get rid of shit day can make everyone feel lighter. Dealing with loose papers and threads is not even close to having to sort through emotional items and decide what to keep. Those are hard decisions made one at a time. Waiting is very wise.

    The boots look like I would kick up a conversation. I spy sassy buttons there.

    January 30, 2014
  6. Your two sides are very interesting and very relatable. I like the gradient in your closet. Boden bird shirt maybe?

    When I feel anxious or agitated I have an uncontrollable urge to tidy and organize and get pissed off at those around me who can not understand why at that very moment it is so important to me to get the airplanes in the airplanes bin. The other part of the time when I am neither anxious nor agitated I kind of go with the flow. This is a change for me. I used to be all clean and bleached and picked up all the time. And clutter…I’d rather throw it out than have it.

    My Dad walks around saying “Waste not want not” so as you can imagine my parents home is filled with clutter. Also, my Dad makes piles in my house when he visits. I would worry about people coming over thinking I must have all the time in the world to clean my house because I stay at home with the kids. Now my motto is take me or leave me, this is my life. Your closet makes me envious. It is refreshing for me to look at that photo. That is the old me. Black and all (including your serger threads). My husband is a hoarder. I have moved his grade school notebooks to three houses now. It makes me red.

    Glad the snake is safe. The study sounds very interesting to me.

    I love how real you keep it.

    January 30, 2014
  7. THAT is your wardrobe? Are you kidding me right now? I’m so confused… It is simply not possible!

    January 30, 2014
    • Hey man, I just said it was my closet! I have other clothes–a drawer full of t-shirts and two of underwear! A bin with maternity stuff and another bin with stuff that I will never wear again but can’t toss, like those kinds of t-shirts Mina talked about..Plus there’s a drawer not show in the closet photo with ratty stuff for gardening.

      January 30, 2014
  8. Ana #

    Also LOVE the bird shirts. I’m no hoarder, but I like my stuff. I adore organizing as much as the next OCD neatnik, but I’m having trouble with the idea that I should feel guilt and shame for not keeping on top of “de-cluttering” constantly. We have a small house, and it gets full of outgrown, unnecessary stuff, and then we get rid of some of that stuff and feel free & good for a while. But my closets are packed full because I like clothes, and my shelves are sagging with the weight of all the books I love, and my kids toy bins are stuffed to the brim with things they actually play with…is that wrong? (not your post, specifically, but I’ve read a ton of posts on this topic recently and I hate that some people are feeling bad about themselves for having clutter…a messy house doesn’t make you a bad person!)

    January 30, 2014
    • You know, after I posted this, I began to think that the topic of clutter might be a subject like sleep in infants. Like sleep in infants, I think it’s really hard to talk about without people feeling judged, even if no judgement is uttered or intended. Because it involves comparison, I guess, and it’s hard not to then ascribe value to whatever difference we see post-comparison. My x is different from your Y, thus one must be better.

      I feel judged when people talk about clutter–like when they tell me there’s some book or website that will help me live with just N things and then I will be so happy…that just pisses me off because again someone is trying to make money off making me feel shitty. But the reason that I like this particular “challenge” is that SRB started with the premise that clutter is whatever you define it as being, and that it only EXISTS for you if you are feeling oppressed by clutter. If you’re not oppressed, it’s not clutter, and fuck other people for having an opinion on the subject of what your space should look like.

      January 30, 2014
    • SRB #

      A huge part, if not the biggest part of this challenge *for me* is acceptance. It is about reaching a place where I *don’t* feel bad (and a part of that might be removing items that make me feel bad) about clutter, mess, and/or the intersection of the two. Finding peace within my home, not making a perfect home. Dealing with the emotions that come up and the root of those emotions is key to letting it all go. I am doing this for myself, and encouraging others to do the same (because I think having support is a pillar of moving forward), if they feel up to it. If not, put it in the basement and open that box later. Or don’t.

      January 30, 2014
      • Me too, about the acceptance. I think the tenor of anything about clutter is almost always YOU = BAD PERSON FOR HAVING STUFF. Plus almost always a sizzlin’ hot side of BUT IF YOU BUY *THIS* THING YOU WILL BE LESS BAD. One of my favorite examples is magazines with articles about de-cluttering interspersed with ads for shit that will clutter up your house. FUCK YOU, MAGAZINES. It creates real cognitive dissonance to ask people to yearn for two things simultaneously, a serene environment AND a charming laundry basket, that that makes people feel like SHIT.

        That is not the tenor of SRB’s thing at all.

        Ana will be too busy with her own always impressive efforts to think about parts of her life that she want to change to read this (she does an amazing job with self-reflection, in case you don’t read her), but in case anyone *else* wanders over from some other place, SRB defines what she means by clutter here:

        January 31, 2014
      • This strikes a cord with me as it’s all about acceptance (for me). Reading this also helps me feel supported and less judged. Thanks SRB

        January 31, 2014
  9. First things first, despite our recent conversation, I am glad to have it in writing that the snake is safe in the attic.
    Second, well, WOW. That closet is a thing of beauty. The order is beautiful. The items, also beautiful. I recognize your gorgeous, discerning, understated style in each article of clothing.
    And I love the studio picture and the beloved mementos and art supplies. Complexity (as opposed to uni-dimensionality) is something to strive for when having a personality.
    And the basement can wait. I’m glad you know that. It’s not going anywhere and you don’t have to look at it (that often).

    January 30, 2014
  10. mmd #

    I really like your take on the clutter issue. I’m just starting to get cracking on my own clutter issue, which needs some serious attention. I apparently gave up being organized (always a tenuous state for me, anyway) when I had kids. Our oldest is nearly four now, which means there’s some scary stuff in my closets and drawers. It does feel good to be getting rid of stuff, despite my packrat tendencies. (I just gave to Goodwill a skirt that I got in HIGH SCHOOL. For reference, that was the late 80’s, for god’s sake.)

    I’ve been reading various “decluttering” sites and blogs for inspiration, and I found many of them to be a bit overly strident. Some of the comments had that same tone that I’ve seen on various Paleo diet blogs, where people are advocating that their philosophy of extreme minimalism (or restrictive diet, what-have-you) is the one true path to happiness and fulfillment… Anyway, just wanted to say that I appreciate the non-extremist approach to decluttering and organization. (I admit to being jealous of your closet, however.)

    January 31, 2014
  11. You crack me up, bunny. I don’t have much of a social life but then the free time I have is often spent cooking or baking, which tends to generate more mess than it resolves. Actually social life would help – my husband is much more orderly than I am (his place was spotless before we moved in together) and insists on cleaning up whenever we have friends over. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to talk him into cleaning up my clutter, too…
    And the basement, yeah. Leave it alone for however long you need. I have moved boxes with stuff that I just couldn’t deal with across an entire ocean.

    January 31, 2014
  12. I need to hear that it’s OK if now is not the time, and one can’t deal with something now. Thanks for this. And I love the closet and the craft table. And hells to the yeah for organization over social life. I’m an enabler.

    February 1, 2014
  13. i want the reference.

    February 3, 2014
  14. (Bunny. THANK YOU. I am touched that my drawings hang in your beaauuuutiful studio. This is the answered ping in the darkness of space.)

    I like the cut of your jib. I also tend to the pack-all-my-belongings-in-a-handkerchief style of life, in theory at least. In reality, you need a sofa. Tricky. I also don’t like clutter because it confuses me with all the busy visual information of it. Bleah. Husband truly shambolic in this regard. His office looks like we have builders in. I have come to just close the door on his mess and not think about it.

    (Now I realise I said I like your style and then said I have the same. I like my style apparently. Ha. Oh dear.)

    February 5, 2014

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