Friday, August 9, 2019

Clutter inspires and sparks joy

HALLIE EPHRON: I've been talking (and talking and talking) about my book this week, and I often get asked about the serendipity of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR coming out when Marie Kondo's philosophy and methodology for decluttering caught fire. (Today Google turns up nearly 48 million hits for the term "decluttering;" 9 million for Marie Kondo; 2.3 million for "spark joy.")

The truth is: pure luck. I started writing about being married to pack rat when Marie Kondo was 14 years old, when I'm sure she had not yet perfected her methodology for folding socks. I started writing this book four years ago.

What inspired me was my husband. 


I'm not a collector. Jerry loves his stuff. He collects old illustrated books, hotel soaps and shampoos, vintage fans, porcelain-based milkshake machines, twist ties, radios... He carries around so many pens in the pocket of his jeans, it amazes me that his pants stay up.

For decades, I've been writing about what my professional organizer friend Kathy Vines calls our "mixed marriage." Foraging around in my hard drive, I found an essay I wrote in 1998. It begins:
This morning my 90-year-old neighbor was up on a step ladder, washing the eight windows that surround her porch. After that, she vacuumed her sidewalk, the cord snaked like an umbilicus up the steps and through the front door.

By the street, she set out tidy rows of paint cans alongside pieces of lumber and plumbing innards. Beside these, she planted a hand-lettered sign: “FREE.”

Just watching her inspires me. Suddenly I’m ready to tackle that walk-in clothes closet I haven’t been able to walk into for months.

I know my husband will be inspired as well – inspired to clean the gutters and rake the lawn so he'll be in position to grab off any of the neat stuff she throws out.
 I never found a publisher for that piece, but many of the things my husband has collected over the years have made it into my fiction. And that 90-year-old neighbor inspired the old woman in my novel THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN. (For anyone who remembers that book, yes, my husband really did drag home a wicker trunk.)

Our basement is one of the settings in CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. I wanted to take pictures to share with you all, but Jerry asked me not to. So you're going to have to use your imagination. Or read the book.



Another setting is a self-storage unit. You know, the kind where Clarice Starling found... never fear, you won't find a jarring discovery like that in one of my books.

Self-storage is a $40 billion business, thanks to baby boomers like my husband and me. Last year, one in eleven Americans were renting self-storage so they could hang onto their stuff. One article reported that the volume of self-storage units in the country could fill the Hoover Dam with old clothing, skis, and keepsakes more than 26 times. 


'Fess up: Do you rent self-storage and what do you keep there?

Free: Chapter 1 of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Free: Chapter 2 of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Free: Chapter 3 of CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

57 comments:

  1. When we moved here from Alabama, we stayed with my sister while we were waiting for the house to be finished [an extremely frustrating time]. We had almost everything we owned in a self-storage unit, but when we were finally able to move into the house, we got rid of the storage unit . . . .

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    1. I know... for interim situations it's a perfect solution... it's when it turns into the neverending storage that you're in trouble.

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  2. Definitely not; it’s bad enough we have a basement with stuff in it! I love a good clean-out and try to cull regularly by giving away to charities that pick up bags or boxes of things they can use or sell.

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  3. I know someone who is a hoarder--not just a collector. As in, you're never invited in if you should stop by because there are only pathways through her stuff. This person has a storage unit in which her son found--wait for it--tons of empty plastic bins she'd purchased to hold future stuff. Bless him, he's actually made some headway in helping his mom declutter.

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    1. Hoarding is really a different thing... it's not just a 'bad habit' enjoying being surrounded by stuff and the memories it stirs up. Empty plastic bins -- that says it all...

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  4. No self-storage for me. I am trying to winnow out lots of my stuff. I certainly don't want to cart it somewhere to be stored and then forgotten. Sometimes I wish I could put out a sign that says FREE - take what you want. My son put a lot of stuff in storage when he had to move from his house to an apartment. Then it turned out that without a house there was a lot of stuff he really didn't need, like a lawnmower, so suddenly my basement/garage became home to his homeowner stuff.

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    1. Yikes... Kids... Ours are forever leaving plastic bins in our basement. They've got a car in our garage.

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  5. No no no— I am trying to get rid of stuff as fast as I can! I just re-did my closet, and got rid of maybe 50% of everything… It is so fabulous! It makes such a difference . Memorabilia is hard, though memorabilia is hard, though.

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  6. Ha! No self storage for me, and tell Jerry we love him. Yes, Hank, memorabilia is very hard. As with Amanda, we have a basement that has more in it than it should (I could send you a picture, Hallie, but you might faint...).

    Earlier this week I stayed in a spartan dorm room for a few days and LOVED it. No stuff. Me, a pretty quilt, a laptop, a lamp and a towel, and a few pieces of clothing. Just the essentials.

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    1. Yes, it's amazing what you can easily live without.

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  7. It was wonderful to be in the audience last night at R. Julie and hear a conversation between Hallie and Lucy!!
    I swore long ago NO Storage units!! I have pared down with every move. And I still have the photos and letters from several ancestors.
    Storage units totally freak me out.

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    1. So wonderful to see you again, Denise!! Thanks for coming. Photos and letters from ancestors - that sounds worth keeping. Just be sure to annotate them so the next generation knows what they're deciding whether to keep or toss.

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  8. We have not rented self-storage...yet. I suspect that when The Girl moves out of her apartment next year, we're going to need one to store all of her stuff. The Hubby is working under the delusion that it can all go back into her room, but I don't think that 90" long couch is gonna fit.

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  9. We manage to contain our overflow in the garage and basement, no self storage unit. Though my son is considering relocating back to Columbus and if he does that, there will probably be a few months of living with us. If that happens, I am sure it will take a self-storage unit to hold the contents of his apartment. Still, that strikes me as what they are actually made for.

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    1. I agree - they are the perfect short term solution.

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  10. Three years ago we gutted the kitchen, which means I had to pack it all up in boxes tht went to the basement. When the new kitchen was finished, I started bringing boxes up and putting things away. When I had all the necessaries--pots, pans, et al--I stopped bringing things upstairs. Now the basement is packed with crap that I don't miss. Although I do need to find the box with the Waterford vase.

    I've had the privilege of reading CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, and it was indeed a privilege. One of my favorite things is a good twist, and Hallie does know how to twist the reader's brain! The Amazon review is done, and now I have to get one up on Goodreads. Well done my friend.

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    1. As we like to say, what goes on in the basement stays in the basement

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  11. Hallie, can’t wait to dive into your book. I’ll be in the Boston area briefly next week so must check if you’re speaking anywhere near me. As you know this is a field I’ve worked in. Though my expertise, if one can call it that, is more with time and paper management. But I have had folk with deep clutter issues as clients. I believe, though i haven’t checked that clutter hoarding is now considered an addiction. If anyone has a friend in this place who appears to be looking for help, therapy is a very good start, with an organizing coach alongside to help with actual lifting. One strategy I used was to have my client weigh the bag of ‘stuff’, (yes, it’s a professional term), before it was donated, tossed etc. those numbers add up.

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    1. What a good strategy, Celia. Stuff does, indeed, have weight, both physically and psychically.

      Isn't there a feng shui tenet about clutter?

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    2. And often getting rid of the stuff doesn’t get rid of the problem

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  12. Hallie, I can relate to husbands dragging things home, especially wood. Steve has never met a piece of scrap lumber he couldn't envision a use for, "someday". You can imagine the paroxysms of joy brought on by construction debris. Thank goodness for Dumpsters. But we still have a huge pile in the garage that we're keeping, just in case. Just in case what, I don't know. Because he's working on a set of steps, and had to buy another $300 worth of wood for them.

    I should talk. I have enough fabric to stitch together and slipcover our entire house. And the detached garage. And possibly the driveway. But I have no idea what happened to the power cords for my sewing machines.

    No rented storage units for us, but then we also have an 1800-square foot basement at the farm completely full of stuff. To be fair, it's mostly the film archives from a 75-year wildlife film business.

    Then there are the barns, which are also full of stuff: birdfeeders and "set materials" galore. And more scrap lumber.

    Yesterday, while shelving my books in the newly finished shelves in the living room, I made a decision: I'm going to either donate a lot of my collections, or haul them to Half-Price Books. I'll keep signed copies, and all Reds' and other writing pals' work, which is already a lot of books.

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    1. When I was purging recently I took a bunch of wonderful books in near-new condition to Half-Price Books and when I saw what I was offered for them, I boxed them back up and went across the street to Goodwill. Somehow, giving them away felt better than being paid pennies for them.

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    2. Our wonderful Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has a dedicated warehouse for donated books. They have several book sales a year around town. Ten years ago they brought a truck and took 1,000 of my books. They'll probably get mine this time, too.

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    3. I’m just glad we don’t have a huge basement or barn

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  13. absolutely no storage unit--never! This makes me realize Hallie that I've never seen your basement...next time I visit?? and everyone, Read This Book--it's a winner!

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    1. Maybe I’ll start charging admission to my basement... 😀

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  14. Shalom Reds and fans. I am somewhere between untidy and a hoarder. I usually am averse to new words but I admit I love the sound of "decluttering". I don't have a storage unit, although not for not trying. Ten years ago, I lost the content of a medium - sized unit because I wasn't able to make the rent. Mostly books were in there. One of them was my high school year book. I can't remember much of anything else from that unit.

    The only things of “value” (sentimental or otherwise) were a stamp collection from my childhood and a some ritual Jewish items. They were a tallit with a pair of silver clips and a set of tefillin which I got for my Bar Mitzvah. They were costly then and would be costly to replace today.

    Most of my hoarding energy today, is spent collecting things digital. I have a dropbox account that contains all manner of files. Music, sheetmusic and all sorts of ebooks and articles, and photographs. I don’t remember most of what’s in there. But sometimes, looking for something, I find myself on a treasure hunt and can’t quite believe all that’s in my cloud storage.

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    1. Cloud storage is a godsend - I lost my high school yearbook and my husband found a copy on eBay

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  15. Yes, actually had two for a little over a year. I got the first, larger unit when we thought Mom was going to move to an assisted living facility. She still wanted to be able to decorate seasonally so, of course she thought she could save it all. Her diagnosis of Alzheimer's changed that idea. My sister and I decided she would go to their house in Oregon where she and her family could be there full time. I was not in the position to be able to stop working. Not everything could go and sorting through it all was more than my sister I could handle at the time. Then my own painful move out of my house three months later was more than I could handle so I added to the original unit and finally had to get a small second one. I still have the small one and need to cull through yarn, Boyds Bears, seasonal decorations and whatever else is in there.

    My brother in law loves to pick but free stuff. There are a couple of free gates leaning on their fence now. My sister found a storage container and it's sitting behind Chuck's shop, which is also huge. Chuck is about to retire, which is great for his sore and beaten body but now he will have seven days a week to pick up free stuff he could use instead of just the weekend.

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    1. This sounds like the opening of a horror novel

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  16. We've never rented a storage unit (that I know of, reference to Hallie's book), but we do have our detached double-car garage which is full of "stuff." The garage is mostly my husband's stuff, and I rarely step foot in it. I admit that I have plenty of stuff inside the house, and my books take both pride of place and plenty of space. I've never been big on going to garage sales as a hobby, but I can understand people that like to go, as there really are some sweet treasures to find. Estate sales/auctions used to be something I'd do occasionally, but I haven't done that in a while. Frankly, I'm ready to get unencumbered by possessions, but it's hard because I'm also sentimental.

    Oh, and I'm into day two of no air conditioning. Our old central air unit had been living on borrowed time for quite a few years, and it finally bid us farewell. Getting someone to your house in a timely manner (which for us is now, please) is a test of patience. Being at the weekend, we are now looking at next week for installation. I'm doing okay sitting in the living rooms surrounded by fans, and I'm trying not to complain, as it's a small potatoes problem compared to so many others. Cause, hey I have my books, my computer, my TV, my fans, and so I'll survive a little discomfort.

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    1. We don’t have a/c but in
      New England there’s only about ten days when it’s unbearable

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  17. Hallie, I, too, am married to a packrat. And, yes, we have a storage unit for his many guitars, books, old lamps (he loves lamps), etc and so forth. I hate "stuff". My parents were clutter bugs, so I, naturally, lean the other way. Nothing makes me happier than carting off a load to Good Will. I've been working on the Hub for 20 years and he has finally agreed to whittle down his FIVE packed bookcases to one. Hallelujah!!!

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    1. Do NOT let my husband see those lamps (hope you’ll blog about them and the guitars one day)

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  18. No no no, no storage unit!! But don't talk to me about our attic... Actually, it was very organized until about five years ago, I'd even paid a helper for a couple of months to organize, label, and box all the various editions of my books that are stored in there. Then we had to have our roof replaced, and in the process the roofers tore off the original shingle roof. All the sawdust, dirt, and broken shingles came down on my book boxes, and I have never managed to sort it out. We can only work in the attic in the winter, and I just haven't had the time to tackle the mess. This winter, I'm doing it!!

    Otherwise, I am madly decluttering, room by room. I just cleaned at least some of the stuff out of my office closet, and the trunk of my car is now completely filled with old bedding to go to Goodwill. Hubby said he couldn't believe so much stuff had come out of that small closet--there must have been a tesseract, lol.

    Hallie, I loved reading about the inspiration for Mina!

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    1. We had a chimney rebuilt which covered everything in our basement with a film of greasy soot- 😤

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    2. Grandma had an attic, basement, warehouse and barn when they moved out......

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  19. This is very timely, Hallie! I'm in the process of cleaning out a storage unit that we've had for way too long, but it's hard to find homes for things to go. We initially got the unit when we moved from a house in Needham, MA to a much smaller condo in Seattle. We weren't sure if we might move in to bigger digs down the road, but my inclination for an uncluttered environment has only grown as I've aged, and even if we had the space, I wouldn't want the stuff. So away it goes, but it's taking me forever! Maybe I should just abandon it...;)

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  20. Hallie! Thrilled about this book, congratulations. Guilty as charged. My husband and I live in a place which fit us 16 years ago when we moved in , but no longer. It's mostly my fault, as he is anti-aquisitive. Currently, because I do screenwriting lectures (and still use VHS tapes for many of them) the self-storage is filled with old VCRs, editing equipment, backup versions of crucial films, extra monitors, etc. I also rotate book collections in and out (Sue Grafton books go in, Sue Grafton books come out). So, my accountant lets me write off the whole thing. Otherwise, we'd have to move!

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  21. Aargh. We're trying to downsize from two to one units as we speak! Finally, finally, my husband is working on the garage and the units, so here's hoping. One unit is "ours" from moving from the land of basements to the land of attics too hot to use. The other is full of my inlaws' stuff that husband is supposed to be doing something with. But, we're making progress. Hallie, can't wait to read your book!

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  22. You know, I've often read or heard about the cost of having too much stuff. This blog really highlights that aspect, Hallie. Beyond spending money on unnecessary stuff, the organization and storage of it all is another, sometimes much much larger expense.

    Even aside from renting storage units, there are entire companies, with hundreds of stores, created just to help us all corral our acquisitions in some kind of orderly, possibly even fashionable, way.

    Think of all the closet fitting companies, and The Container Store, and Organized Living, and all the big box stores that sell shelving and bins and cabinets. A niche and two boards on a couple of bricks don't do it these days, for almost anyone.

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  23. You are so right - and most of it is plastic

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  24. I have a dear friend - not going to name names - whose husband is so like Jerry. Maybe Jerry on steroids. They moved cross country and had to make a total of THREE trips to bring all his "treasures" west - and then paid rental for not one, but TWO storage units for a couple of years until they bought a new house big enough to hold everything.

    Honestly, I think there were a few times when she was --this-- close to homicide, just so she could toss his junk afterwards.

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    1. Laughing... bee cause it can be enough to make you homicidal

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  26. I rented self-storage once upon a time. . .and then we moved from a larger home to a smaller one, and we decluttered. Twenty years later it's time to do it again, but now my self-storage is in the garage, the pantry, any number of closets, and it would be as hard to put a guest in the guest room as it is to put the car in the garage. All thought of getting rid of stuff will have to wait for another day, however, because I received my pre-ordered copy of Careful What You Wish For, and I'll be READING, thank you very much! (Indeed, Hallie--thank you for all that you write.)

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  27. Just finished listening to your book. Great narrator. I do hope there’s a sequel as I want to know what happens next for Emily. After my mother died, we shoved all her stuff into a 16” walk-in closet on our ground floor and shut the door. Because of difficult emotions in dealing with Mom in her latter days, I couldn’t face opening it for three years. I was so proud of myself for finally coming to grips with it when I cleared out 3/4 of it. Imagine my surprise when I opened it recently only to find it full again. My eldest daughters had stuffed it full of baby hand-me-downs - including walkers, bassinettes, toys and clothes - for my youngest daughter. It looks like a baby consignment shop. This closet reminds me of the mythical pot of porridge that never runs dry. I am a little afraid of it,

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  28. Not a fan of clutter. When we moved to a smaller space, we used a self storage unit. First, there was a flood and there was some damage so we had to throw away some things! Second, someone broke into the storage units and we still do not know if they stole anything, though they left a big mess! We finally decided to clear out the self storage unit and throw away most of the stuff!

    I am trying to clear out a lot of space, which is an ongoing project! I have too many books!

    Diana

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  29. My ex-husband did not spark joy and I got rid of him.

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