Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Non-fiction Review: Year of No Clutter


Title: Year of No Clutter
Author: Eve O. Schaub
Publisher: Sourcebooks, 2017. 290 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Eve has a problem with clutter. Too much stuff and too easily acquired, it confronts her in every corner and on every surface in her house. When she pledges to tackle the worst offender, her horror of a "Hell Room," she anticipates finally being able to throw away all of the unnecessary things she can't bring herself to part with: her fifth-grade report card, dried-up art supplies, an old vinyl raincoat.

But what Eve discovers isn't just old CDs and outdated clothing, but a fierce desire within herself to hold on to her identity. Our things represent our memories, our history, a million tiny reference points in our lives. If we throw our stuff in the trash, where does that leave us? And if we don' do we know what's really important?

Everyone has their own Hell Room, and Eve's battle with her clutter, along with her eventual self-clarity, encourages everyone to dig into their past to declutter their future. Year of No Clutter is a deeply inspiring--and frequently hilarious -- examination of why we keep stuff in the first place, and how to let it all go.

My Review:  
The summary for once hits the nail on the head (in the second paragraph in particular). When I first saw this book I nearly passed without a second look, because I thought it was another in the growing collection of books about how much my life would be improved if I just got rid of all the extra stuff in our house (note: this is probably true. I just don't like self-help books). But a second look showed me that this wasn't self-help advice from some perfect housekeeper. This was the memoir of a woman trying to deal--though humor as well as hard work--with border-line hoarder syndrome, and much of what she had to say resonated.

In particular, Schaub's idea that (for her) things not only represent her memories, but that she has a very real fear that they may actually be the memories. If the stuff is gone, won't the memories be also? That thought, coupled with her ear of making the wrong choice, of throwing something out only to want it immediately after (her second insight into her inability to throw anything away), resonated with me. Those two things are exactly why I hang onto far too much stuff, the worn out (or at least half-used) stuff as well as all that art from the boys' childhood. (Depression-era parents and a childhood on a shoe-string budget contribute to the problem).

Seeing where the inability to get rid of anything led Schaub, and watching her conquer her more pathological version of that inability, isn't just inspiring. She actually offers some concrete help to those of us who share that fear of throwing away the wrong thing, and with no judgement. Maybe I could get that same inspiration from the self-help books. But I somehow doubt it. I think I might respond better to seeing someone worse at this than I am succeed. In any case, how could someone who has never saved anything useless tell me how to convince myself it's okay to get rid of stuff?

My Recommendation:
If you have trouble getting rid of stuff, read this. You don't have to be a hoarder, or have a hell-room like Schaub does. Just a closet or two that you haven't cleaned out in 20 years, or in which all you ever do is rearrange the stuff without reducing it. Or read it for the fun of watching someone overcome a serious handicap and come out on top (of the pile of stuff, of course). You can also read it for the laughs, because I forgot to mention that Schaub is a very funny writer.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Year of No Clutter out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 


  1. I nearly skipped this, then the thing about memories got me reading. It *is* hard to know what memories something will bring back when you no longer have other ways of recalling them. Some figurines in a never-unpacked box in my parent's house brought back memories of a holiday when I was 9... But they'd been in the box for 30 years and we hadn't missed them. They went. I have other things to remember that holiday by: a scar on my foot and the smell of apricot jam! Some things have a right to stay, others need to go. Wisdom is knowing which is which. Pack in a box, put in the garage/store, and throw out if untouched after a year, perhaps?

    That reminds me. I've been in my house ten years now. All the things in boxes in the garage, never unpacked, can go. Especially the old accounts.

    1. Old accounts definitely go. Here, for tax purposes, we're supposed to hang onto basic stuff for 7 years, but most of the receipts and power bills serve no purpose whatsoever. Those will go.

      I'm working on the theory that for most of our married life, we have photos enough for any faulty memory. My childhood I have to think about a little more. She has a nice idea of turning kids' art into a photo book--maybe some of the things I want to keep will go that way, too. Though I did a pretty good job of NOT reclaiming some of my stuff when we cleaned out my mom's house.

      In any case, it proved a kind of fun, if also cringe-worthy, read.

  2. This is definitely one I should read and am adding it to my to be read list!
    Thank you for the review!
    [Part of my clutter issue is my mother moved and left her things with me. Now she will make comments about my clutter, but when I try to declutter and aske her about an item she starts with "That was great aunt so and so's..." How do you throw that out?

    1. I hear you. We went through a serious purge when my Mom moved, and it helped me some to see my brothers being very discriminating about what was worth saving. But I have some things that I honestly just don't know what to do with.


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