I’ll say it up front: I am a pack rat.
I come by it honestly. My father is a pack rat — he saves everything, and whenever you need some obscure bit of something, he normally has it. (Whether or not he can find it is a different story.) My mother is not one of us. She has no problems throwing things away; this is why I always invite her to come help when it’s time to do some spring cleaning.
I have worked hard to shed the worst of my pack rat ways. I still struggle with clutter and I probably save too many things, but I’m aware of it and you are unlikely to find me buried under a pile of old newspapers and rotting food. So when a friend recommended Peter Walsh’s book, It’s All Too Much, I was happy to give it a look.
I am of two minds about this book. First, there are some great tips in here. There is definitely a philosophy at work, which is really helpful in encouraging you to clean up. Clutter is stressful! I’ve always know that — it’s that itchy feeling when you just want to sit down and read and all you can do is look at the piles of stuff that you really should be sorting through. Having piles of stuff on every flat surface is not conducive to relaxing.
Walsh has some great strategies for cleaning and organizing: decide what you want to do in the room. That seems simple, right? But when you think about it, it’s more complicated. In my living room, I have my tv, my couch…and my computer desk. I have book shelves. I frequently eat dinner in the living room. So what do I really use it for? His plan is to decide what you use the room for, lay out “zones” where you perform different activities, and organize your stuff accordingly.
Where he and I part company is on his attitude about getting rid of stuff . “Be brutal!” he says. Why? That’s what I say. If I have room to store a whole shelf full of cookbooks and they make me happy, why should I get rid of them? He talks about saving one photo from a family event, and writing a paragraph about the event, and getting rid of the rest of the pictures. That’s a horrible idea! Granted, you can’t let your scrapbooking supplies take over your house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep a photo album.
I think the big problem is this: I do not believe it is somehow inherently better to not have things. I don’t think there is some special virtue in having an austere, empty house. I would like to be able to see the surface of my dining room table, but that doesn’t mean I have to throw out everything in my kitchen to get there. I think a lot of these experts really believe that you are better off not keeping things, and I don’t agree. Books are always a target and I love my books. I love having full bookshelves and I love being surrounded by books. I have no interest in getting rid of them in for the sake of having spartan bookshelves.
If you’re looking to dig your way out from under a mound of clutter, this is a great book. There are lots of good strategies that can be really helpful in creating a system to organize your home. Just don’t rush to throw away your family photos. 🙂