Mind over Clutter

I hate clutter.  HATE it.

All kinds of clutter.  Anywhere.  I have a visceral reaction to it.  It drives me crazy and stresses me out.  I cannot say enough about how much I hate it.

Unfortunately, I live with men who are pack rats and slobs and clutterers.  There are piles of stuff on our kitchen table.  On our counter tops.  On the floor around the table.  Piles in almost every room of the house.  Clutter in the car even.  And it spreads.  Mess begets mess; clutter begets clutter.

My dislike of clutter translates to so many areas of my life.  For example, it drives me crazy to have a full email inbox and I feel stressed when my google reader is overflowing.  I like my desk cleared off and everything has its place.  I even don’t like “stuff” on the front of my refrigerator.  Or background music playing when I’m home or in the car:  audio clutter.

My husband likes piles.  He swears he knows exactly what is where.  For him, out of sight is out of mind and he will forget about things, so he wants to keep everything front and center where he can see it.  For me, out of sight is out of mind in a good way, so I DON”T want to see things!  Over the past 23 years we have both made compromises in this area, but I admit that every now and again things just build and I can’t manage to walk through the house with my usual blinders on and the clutter starts my heart racing and my head pounding and I blow.

My sons might be even worse clutterers than their dad.  My older son leaves things in his room in discrete piles.  The top of his dresser is heaped with papers and empty deodorant sticks and books and empty boxes from computer games.  My teen has so much stuff on the floor of his room that you literally cannot take a step inside without careful maneuvering.  There are clean clothes mixed with dirty clothes and trash and toiletries and used tissues from the last time he had a cold and probably a lot of missed school assignments in there somewhere.  For some reason he is collecting used Gatorade bottles.  But I close the door to their rooms and walk on by.  What is harder to live with is the teen’s pile on and around his “spot” at the kitchen table.  Shoes on the floor, dirty socks and a sweatshirt or two, college brochures, sunglasses.  And he leaves a trail of dirty dishes in his wake.  My older son did something similar at and around the table and I took to referring to it as the “locker area.”  Unfortunately, the locker area was taken over by my husband’s clutter when our son left for college.

I know I am a bit anal.  I have some perfectionistic tendencies; some unusual quirks.  (You can stop laughing now, dear family members who read my blog.)  Yes, I like things in their place.  Yes, I like surfaces clear.  Yes, I like to see the tops of my kitchen table and counters.  This is my reality.  I know this about myself.  It is not something I can change.  What I have changed, is my approach to dealing with clutter.  And my willingness to compromise and accommodate the clutterers who I love more than I love order and clean surfaces.  I am a neat freak doing her best to live in a house filled with clutter.  Loving her men, but not loving their mess.  Putting back on the blinders.  Another day, another mess.  And just for today I am enjoying the relatively picked up house, thanks to having hosted company this weekend.  I’ll take it for as long as it lasts:)



Filed under emotions/emotional issues, family, influence of others, lifestyle

58 responses to “Mind over Clutter

  1. I am not a fan of clutter but I am also a terrible cleaner.. so.. can you come clean & pick up my house!;-)

    I wish I was more anal like you about that stuff!

    • Karen

      No who said anything about cleaning! Being neat does NOT mean being clean:) Although I will say that I’d keep my kitchen counter tops spic and span if I could get to them. My dusty bookshelves are another story altogether!

  2. Kathy

    I am not alone! Are you sure you didn’t visit my house before you wrote this post? As for the Gatorade collection, it must be a guy thing–both of my sons have one. Thanks for reminding me that I am not alone.

    • Karen

      What is it with that!? My son keeps the huge bottles only, at least, and has lined them up on a ledge in his room and on the window sill. When he goes to college I think there will be a whole lotta recycling going on up there.

  3. I love this post! Where do you come up with these ideas? On second thought, guess you just looked at your kitchen table for this one, didn’t you? LOL!

  4. Karen, I can only say that you are just about my exact twin when it comes to being a neatnik and dealing with clutter. Luckily I have only one testosterone-producer to deal with. I call him my “two-year old” because he merrily romps through the house destroying order and scattering items and stickiness everywhere he goes.

    When I was a young woman, I had a dream of someday marrying or living with a man, but I envisioned us having two, adjoining apartments. He would maintain his side and I mine. This remains my fantasy. I’ve described it to my husband, but he said it probably wouldn’t work because he would spend all of his time over at my place because his place would be too messy for him. Sigh….

    • Karen

      Well, I tried designating all sorts of spaces for my husband, preferable behind cabinet doors or in the basement. But somehow that didn’t work. Sigh.

  5. Well you know me, I’m the opposite. I don’t even see the mess as I step over it. I like the mess on my desk. My daughter in a fit of OCD one time asked if she could straighten my desk. I wouldn’t let her. She could make all the blinds the exact same height if she really wanted but don’t touch my desk. I’ve learned to be neater in life, but I need my oasis. My husband is the same way, but on your side of the coin. His desk is his and I’m not allowed to touch it (though I do put mail that he has to look at on it). He would love his life with everything in its perfect spot. But then again HE doesn’t fold the blankets on the couch or pick anything up. Or deal with the mail. He just hates the mess, but doesn’t clean. How could I have gotten two OCD people in my family that won’t clean up? It doesn’t seem fair. The slob in the family shouldn’t be the one responsible for cleaning. It is never a good combination.

  6. Are we sisters? I too hate clutter and my husbands office is a file by pile mess. My sons room is piles of clothes on the floor and the chair next to his in the kitchen is piled everyday with his stuff! It makes me crazy!

    I like you, shut the door to his room and to husbands office.

    Daily I go around and pick up the clutter and put it away. It makes me feel crazy when it is messy around here.

    • Karen

      I used to pick stuff up. I gave up. I used to fold our afghans on the couch and chair but then my son would come along and unfold them as he got underneath. I gave up on that too. Years ago I would go into my boys’ rooms and clean. Not anymore!

  7. A little secret/something to look forward to; the best part of ’empty nest’ is a cleaner, less cluttered nest.


    • Karen

      Funny you should mention that… it was actually part of this post at one point but I thought it made me sound like a horrible mom! But in my mind I have a vision of a lot less clutter next fall:)

  8. Ewa

    For me it is always a dilemma, what do I dislike more, clutter or cleaning after my men because no matter how much they try, they seem to be totally unable to clean sufficiently well after themselves.
    Judging by the look of our house, I dislike cleaning more.

    • Karen

      I hate cleaning up after other people. But the clutter thing is different because they don’t WANT me to touch it or move it or toss it. Sigh.

  9. AFG

    I’m with Jody. Hate clutter. Need to practice the cleaning skills. Maybe I just need to train my three children on cleaning so they can do it for me… 🙂

    • Karen

      Yes! While they are young enough that you can actually get them to do something. My son does clean his bathroom… when we have company and with my husband’s supervision. But boy you should see the horror between cleanings! I am going to probably have to apologize to my future daughters-in-law some day that I did not train my boys well. Sigh.

  10. I’m hyperventilating just hearing about the clutter. 🙂 Mac has gotten a lot better about keeping stuff “just in case”. Of course, as one of my kids so kindly pointed out, maybe the reason I’m so clutter-free is I have two houses to put it in. :X

  11. Have a family meeting and discuss and problem solve it. You would be surprised at how, for example different types of organizers could be used to make it work for everyone.

  12. I guess we are way different because I WOULD NOT ALLOW MY KIDS OR HUBBY’S CLUTTER to be in my home. My 11 year old knows if her room is not cleaned to MY liking I start throwing things away. Good luck with your clutter.smile.

    • Karen

      One summer my son went to camp and I got into his room and tossed a ton of stuff that he never missed:) Ah if only that worked now. I usually get blamed if one of them can’t find something – they are sure I moved it or threw it away.

  13. Note to Karen: DO NOT visit Marbear! Haha. Hubs ad I are both clutter people. As long as it’s clean, then I’m cool with a little dissary. At home, at least. In my work environment I’m totally organized to the point of being really annoying. It’s amusing the two never over lap… it would be nice to find balance.

    • Karen

      That is funny how you are so different at work. I was a neatnik there too, back in the day. And my husband had lots of piles on his work desk. He insists he knew where everything was.

  14. I’m so with you on this one. I can’t stand clutter in any form either. If a room is cluttered, it affects my ability to think and function optimally. Co-habitation has forced me to compromise a bit on this one as well. 🙂

    • Karen

      Glad to know it is not just me who is so affected:) I don’t remember any clutter when hubby and I first started living together; I guess it took him years to collect it all!

  15. Karen, a pile of used Gatorade bottles? Okay, that would drive anyone crazy! You know I’ve written before about hoarding so I can relate to this! Clutter is difficult because it’s all that little stuff we never get to and never throw away. By the time we get to it, it’s not longer important.

    My daughter, I swear, has a swirl of clutter that just follows her through the house. She sits down and it settles down beside her. Somehow it doesn’t get up again…

    • Karen

      That made me laugh and picture Pigpen from the Peanuts. Funny thing is the bottles bother me less than other stuff because those he actually has lined up high on a (useless) ledge in his room and above his window sill and on a shelf. Go figure – neat with his empty bottles of all things.

  16. Nicole

    WOW, another human being just like me. I HATE clutter, stuff or anything out of its place. Thankfully my 12 year old is the same way. He has lots of stuff but everything is placed where he wants it and god forbide you move it. I thought I was the only one who felt like this. I am very anal (and have tried to change that) but just couldn’t. Thanks for posting!! 🙂

    • Karen

      Oh I could go on and on about my anal quirks. Like how the Corian cutting boards on my counters are lined up nice and square:) Yep, my boys got this one all from their dad.

  17. We are opposites. Sort of. I hate clutter too but I’m very good at living with it. Because I’m the one who makes it. I am good at cleaning but I’m not good at keeping things clean. I have bad habits like not throwing trash away or putting clothes in the dirty laundry and if I don’t clean once a week, it builds. You would shriek in terror if I showed you my house right now. It’s actually driving me CRAZY b/c I do hate a messy house but I also can’t get up enough motivation to do anything about it. Since you like analogies–here you go: me wanting a clean house is like wanting to lose weight. I want it, want it, want it, but until the situation gets completely and disgustingly out of control, I won’t do anything about it. Like right now. I’ve been eating whatever I want for almost a month and I seriously don’t see myself stopping this until I HAVE to. I want to eat healthy. But I’m not and am not forcing myself to.

    • Karen

      Oh I sure do get that analogy! Funny thing too is there are tons of articles (internet and magazine) about a link between clutter and weight issues. For me though, ironically, I am super-controlled with most every area of my life BUT my weight. Sigh. My house is a lot less clean than I’d like. (Clean and cluttered are very different for me.) But that one is a losing battle too.

  18. I went out an purchased 25 containers 2 weeks ago just to dejunk my home. I have been going room to room and boxing up, selling or throwing away anything that is not being used. I am tired of being tired dealing with clutter. I am with you on this one.

  19. Ha! What a fun post. We are definitely cut from the same cloth. I hate clutter so much, I don’t even complain when I see it in the house anymore because it takes my man too long to do something about it. I’ve resolved to silently flutter about the house 3 times a day like a little fairy picking up after him.

    I have a feeling this method won’t last long…

  20. I’m like you in the way clutter, any/all clutter, makes me feel totally crazy. And yet, I have my own clutter problem… in the studio, around my computer, on the kitchen table, under the kitchen table, in the corner by my side of our bed. My husband’s piles are fairly neat, whereas mine tend to look messy. How can that be? I don’t understand myself procrastinating and making more piles.

    It makes me think of allergies, of how I craved onion and garlic, having them both until I developed a terrible allergic reaction to them. I’m allergic to clutter, yet crave it and continue to build it.

    At least in my case there are only two of us. I’m sorry you have so much of it to deal with and very much admire your loving blinder-attitude toward your men.

    • Karen

      Now I will admit that there are one or two places in the house that I myself am cluttered… and I know very well that my own clutter does not bother me as much as other clutter. But mine is all where I don’t see it regularly, like a pile on the floor of my closet pushed to the side. I can just hear my childish voice coming out on the playground – my clutter’s better than YOUR clutter.

  21. Oh man, I also hate clutter and have that visceral reaction to it! It’s almost impossible for me to relax in a cluttered space. I need things picked up and clean!
    I know what you mean though about putting love before order–sometimes things get messy but you have to set aside your compulsive feelings to be with (and make room for) your loved ones. Great post!

    • Karen

      I have read that there is a real reason why we have a hard time relaxing around clutter! It is not just something we are making up:) I so love walking into my house on the rare occasions it is all picked up; it feels so much more calm.

  22. D

    LOL Love this! I laughed when you wrote about your teenage son’s spot at the kitchen table – it’s the same here. Drives me CRAZY! I end up putting it all on his chair (so I can’t see it)!! But as far as piles go, I hate them, but I’m the one who has them. Jobs half done – waiting for tomorrow. I’d love to have file folders to put them in & away, but I need a couple of weeks to devote to decluttering & organizing in order to get there – and I just don’t have that time right now. But I do DREAM of it – I really do. I look forward to getting rid of stuff!!! Oh that makes me so happy! DH knows I’ve had a wonderful day if he sees bags of garbage sitting outside of the back door! LOL
    It’s not just you!!

    • Karen

      Oh I have resorted to the chair trick too, but often there is too much to have it not over-spill! My mom swears I was a messy kid but I don’t believe her.

  23. Karen, we are a lot alike. So are our men it seems! Everything you talked about I have witnessed in my own home. But I have no mercy on my husband. Every week I pile up his stuff and put it in the basement in his office so I don’t have to look at it! His office is a complete disaster area. Luckily the boys are still at an age where I can force them to clean up their rooms every saturday morning. For me the worst is the unflushed toilets and used dirty Q-tips left on the bathroom floor!!! LOL!!!

    • Karen

      Oh that last part cracked me up. I may have told you before that I REFUSE to clean the toilets in our house or my boys’ bathroom. Yuck. Unfortunately hubby and I share an office. It has a split personality down the middle and is much easier to live with now that we have two desks and each have our own computer. Phew.

  24. Hmmm That empty nest idea is nice, but the little grandchickies are here three days a week and I’m back at the baby toys strewn all over the house stage. Despite two entire bookshelves, a toy basket, a book basket and tricycle and strollers stowed in the garage, I can see no fewer than parts of at least six toys from my vantage point in the family room right now (toy chicken, legos, 3 rings from a ring stacker, a ball, 7 childrens’ books, 3 “art projects” the 2 yr old forgot to take home, a music box, and 3 child sized chairs. And yes, we did sing the “clean up” song and cleaned up before mom picked them up.
    My sole loves order (I’m a librarian, remember) but I tolerate piles of stuff pretty well these days. I’m an “I might need this” saver–DH is the “if I don’t know what this is, I’ll toss it out” person.

    • Karen

      Ah, I had forgotten the clutter of little kids. Okay, I guess I can put up with that some day to have my future grandkids around:) As for books, I have a very neat stack right now in my bedroom, waiting to be read, but once that happens I don’t keep those around either! Most books on shelves are … clutter … to me.

  25. i married one of the 1% of men who are neat freaks AND straight. thank god cause i got junk in my trunk and any place else i can stuff it. 😉

    • Karen

      LOL. Seems most people I talk to have one of the couple neat and the other… not so much. Funny how that works. When I met my husband I didn’t even think about this, but back then he owned so little I never would have guessed about the pack rat clutter thing.

  26. I hate clutter and extra stuff with a passion. My hubby – not so much. But we are good for each other.

  27. That’s so funny. I can’t stand clutter either, but I’ve surrendered to it. When two packrats mate it’s not pretty. We have 4 garages that are all full of stuff! And there’s so much stuff in this house…
    Oh, I can’t think about it now. (and that’s how it sits there another day)

    • Karen

      Oh I forgot about our garage! And now I have garage envy:( Ours is tiny and each inch is stuffed and my husband even build shelves on every wall. We have stuff in there from our dead pets even! At least I can ignore it most of the time.

  28. Im so so so so fine with clutter anywhere but my office 🙂
    and NONONONONONO fine with the dirrrrty (thinking about jodys comment/your response :))

    but the inbox?
    I have issues sister 🙂 I can not stand a jampacked in-box.
    I need to respond reply delete WHATEVER and get in down to manageable numbers.


    • Karen

      Yep, I am like that with the inbox too:) The bad part about it is that sometimes my time management is skewed in favor of the clutter-reducing activities instead of the priority activities!

  29. oh yes, i hear ya. can’t STAND clutter. (in part because we have a really small apartment.) when we moved overseas, obviously we couldn’t take everything with us so we did a MAJOR cleanup. that’s when you realize how much *stuff* you don’t actually need.

  30. I have to contain clutter. It is difficult with small children and their clothes, shoes, toys, etc. but I keep at it. I hate how much time it takes though.

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