Over-Stuffed: Save Us From the Stuff We Save

I never know where to draw the line between sentimental stuff and clutter -- anyone who has ever tried sifting through memories of a lifetime knows it's poignant and hard to do.
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It used to be my own dirty little secret. And then I started to read more -- such as a recent UCLA survey that estimates 75 percent of American families have so much stuff crammed in the garage, they can't get the car in it.

That made me felt much better about myself.

Not because I can fit a car into our garage. I can't. But because I'm not alone.

This over-stuffed situation is so pervasive and common, soon we'll have support groups, interventions, 12-step programs, stints in rehab.

Mostly I wish it would all go away.

Not just the stuff -- but the advice on how to deal with it. Like a recent piece by Gretchen Rubin in the New York Times -- which had some good suggestions (that I doubt I'll ever do).

I wish I could come up with a better word to describe the stuff that fills my house, and even my brain. (The subtitle of my blog was "Confessions of a cluttered mind.") Then again, I guess "clutter" is kinder than the H-word.

Sometimes I think the problem is just the way stuff is stored -- would it still be called clutter if it's well-organized?

My storage system is totally random -- not just where it is but what it is.

If only I had decided to hang onto Barbie dolls and vintage lunchboxes that would be valuable collector's items, instead of what I actually kept -- like a six-foot-long chain I made out of gum wrappers in eighth grade.

You'd think I would be done with clutter by now anyway.

A few years ago I created a blog called Cluttercast -- every single day I would describe an individual item, and send it for free to anyone who wanted it.

After a year of this, I'm embarrassed to admit I still have plenty of clutter. And my several hundred Cluttercast posts just created MORE clutter on the Internet.

I'm convinced I'm a clutter magnet -- my stuff is not just mine. And it's not my fault.

Like any other parent, I have my kids' stuff -- including every homework assignment my son completed in third grade. (Not my fault, since third-graders shouldn't have so much homework.)

Having a soft sentimental streak makes me the obvious choice to wind up with stuff no one else wants. For anything ever owned by anyone in the family, I always assume that the next generation will want anything of historical value.

That's why I kept my father's college chemistry course notebooks -- though I never took chemistry and can't understand a single word even if I could read his handwriting, which I can't.

For the same reason, I assume someday my kids will want MY college course notebooks, which I've also saved. Although I've noticed my kids don't even save their own college notebooks.

Which brings up my kids' feelings about my clutter. I always considered my propensity to save things as an annoyance, and figured I had plenty of time to deal with it before they would have to.

Lately it feels more urgent.

I got some insight when my ex-husband died a few months ago. We were still close; and recently I helped our two children go through his stuff.

Their dad was highly organized and did not accumulate stuff at my level. But they grew up in my house -- which apparently affected their approach toward clutter -- and magically made them practical, i.e., they were merciless about letting things go.

I never know where to draw the line between sentimental stuff and clutter -- anyone who has ever tried sifting through memories of a lifetime knows it's poignant and hard to do. It was especially hard to restrain myself from taking Howard's stuff home with me -- accumulating even more clutter than I already have.

This experience got me thinking about what will happen when I die. So when I returned home from Howard's extremely neat garage (where he had plenty of room for his car), I took a look at ours.

It gave me a headache.

Forget about going through file cabinets I haven't opened in 10 years -- instead of dealing with what's IN them, I looked at what's ON them. Like this, which might look familiar:


I know exactly when I got it -- it was in my college dorm room.


Sentimental or not, I resolved to be more like my kids -- to be practical. So I kept it.

Hey, it's practical -- I can use it to store more stuff.

Darryle Pollack's blog is called "I never signed up for this..."

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