Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Thoughts on Clutter: Clutter = Love

In the New York Times Well blog, there is a discussion about dealing with clutter going on in the comments.

I'm not sure if it is simply that people are more open about this problem (because I remember hearing about ladies who hoarded cats when I was a child), or if the problem has developed greater proportions, but it seems that clutter and hoarding is a real problem in the US.

My take on it is that as we have become more affluent, we have disconnected more and more from the people around us - neighbors barely know each other anymore, and while everyone is a 'friend', no one keeps in touch, or knows what is really going on in one anothers' lives. In a lot of ways, to a lot of people, co-workers have become the new 'family' - and we all know how dyfunctional some families are :->.

Even with our children - our society today makes it very easy to almost never interact with your own children if you don't want to, and still look like a 'good' parent. Private schools, tons of extracurricular activities designed to keep the young ones busy and out of your hair, while you 'do your own thing'.

It's at the point that even the church divides up families according to age for Sunday School, and looks at you oddly when you question the status quo. "Don't you want a break from your children?" seems to be the question.

And this attitude spills over into everything else. Why spend time talking to your parents? Or taking care of them when they get sick? Don't we have professionals for that?

The simple act of listening to someone in pain seems to have been replaced by psychotherapy (I don't doubt that there is a need for it sometimes, I just think a lot of the time, a friends' empathy will do the trick, before the 'big guns' come out)…

There is a serious disconnect between our heads and our hearts today.

We have outsourced our love, caring, and simple, old-fashioned empathy for one another to professionals, who really don't care. They can't… or they would burn out and go insane, too.

So, what's left?

Our stuff.

That trophy from the time that your team won the Big Game.

A physical reminder of a time when you felt great, powerful, alive and perfect, if only briefly.

The dishes that belonged to your grandmother, and even though they are chipped and stained, you remember the times that you sat around her table at Thanksgiving and basked in the warmth of the camraderie of family.

That stuffed animal that your old boyfriend, what's-his-name gave you. It didn't work out, but there were no hard feelings, and when you look at it, it makes you smile.

The things that won't leave you. Even though the people attached to them did.

Whether it was distance, divorce, or death, by their choice or not - they are gone.

But the memories - embodied by the stuff - remains to comfort those left behind.

This is what I think causes the clutter for a lot of us... in the absence of strong, accepting relationships, we accept the superficial nature of the relationships we have, and develop deep ties to our stuff.

The stuff which won't leave us, or forsake us. It 'loves' us anyway, even though we are not perfect, if that makes any sense.

When you look at it in the hard, cold, light of day, it is obviously not right to love stuff more than people. But many do, because it is the only relationship that doesn't hurt, at least on the surface.

But the clutter does hurt. It keeps others out of our lives, because we are afraid. Afraid to let people in, to see the real us, because others have hurt us before.

And our stuff won't do that. [Right about here, I feel like saying, "My precioussssss"!]

So, we keep our stuff, even when it's broken, or useless, or costing us money.

It's amazing, the depth of the human heart to love.

And, in the absence of human, reciprocal love, we'll turn to stuff.

Think about it. The people who obsess about celebrities, who stalk them, etc.

They objectify the person that they desire... that person becomes part of their stuff (but not usually in reality), if only by the information and collectibles gathered, they have a connection to that person, no matter how nebulous or tenuous.

Anyway, so tell me what you think… why are people so attached to their stuff? Is it simply mental illness? Or is it a deeper, heart craving for closeness to real, living human beings?


8 opinions on this post:

RuthDFW said...

girl this was too deep - and too true!

------- said...

Thank you :-)

Crafty Green Poet said...

I like your thoughts here, very insightful. I think part of why so many of us have so much stuff is that there are shops full of it and we have the money to buy it, its easy and it seems to fill a void without having to ask why the void is there.

Personally I really try to not hoard stuff, but even so, its there!

MacLady said...

What about those of us that aren't attached to our clutter? I'm just overwhelmed by paper!!

If I lost it all tomorrow, I wouldn't shed tear one. :(

But your post did give me ideas to mull over though..and I thank you for that!

------- said...

@crafty green poet:

Absolutely true. Asking why the void is there is the sticky part... when you're feeling the need to shop is not the time for deep thought about our motives.

And, even knowing this about myself, it is still a struggle not to accumulate stuff!!

------- said...


Don't even let me get started on the paper problem!!

I have some thoughts on that, and some of it is tied into the heart thing of this post, but there's other stuff mixed in with it (just like with the paper in real life), and I'll have to think about it a little more before my thought on it is clearer.

Anonymous said...

After I dragged all my crap out of state to take a job that lasted all of 4 months, I realized I had way too much stuff that I really didn't need... like those shoes that were cute as hell, but wore maybe 3 or 4 times, if that; or that ruffly shirt I bought that didn't fit me quite right, but wore anyway; or those belts and hair thingies and books... I got rid of it all until everything that I kept fit into one large box, then I shipped it home.

Why did I keep some of that stuff... I really don't know, if I have to be honest with myself. It was just... stuff.

Great post!

little wing writer said...

oh my goodness that was good!!!....i shall not speak outloud of my clutter...