“Ma’am, is that a dead mouse?” “We prefer the term nonfunctional vermin.“
There’s a spectrum of books about decluttering: on the one end you have Marie Kondo, famed organizer, who seems like she’s never left a sock in her makeup drawer in her life. And then there’s Eve Schaub, who has a Hell Room. A hell room that contains a mouse corpse in a jewelry box, which she is keeping because it inspired a story when she discovered it in the aforementioned Hell Room. Year of No Clutter is the story of one woman’s quest to figure out why she can’t let go of all her stuff and un-hellify the largest room in her house.
[…] it was one thing to have a messy garage or an overflowing attic; lots of people have those. However, this, I scolded myself, this was really borderline behavior. Fringe-y behavior. I needed to get it together. And I solemnly resolved, once and for all, that I would. That was eight years ago.
Having successfully spent a year without consuming any added sugar in food for her previous book, Schaub decides that the best way to ensure she finally defeats her clutter demons is to make this the topic of her next book. Armed with her copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she is ready to face the mammoth task of sorting the contents of the room. Like a bad omen, she immediately loses the book in the Hell Room (and will only find it a couple of months later). This is the sort of chaos that follows Eve Schaub like a persistent, messy lamb.
Over the course of the year, she is ably and enthusiastically assisted by her eldest daughter Greta, who attacks the task with slightly intimidating vigour, and who is often the one keeping her mother on track. Less convinced of the endeavour is Schaub’s youngest daughter Ilsa, who shares her mother’s traits.
Those traits – the quirks and neuroses that have led to the accumulation of a mountain of, well, crap – essentially boil down to:
- extreme nostalgia (memorialising every event for fear of forgetting even a single moment)
- the inability to let go – let go of the past, let go of an obsession, let go of that dead mouse
- fear of making the wrong decision (what if she gets rid of something and regrets it?)
- OCD, which is triggered and exacerbated by the above
Often, the niggling, doubting voice in the back of her head – the voice that suggests she may need the endless printed emails saved from a failed business venture of a decade ago; because of reasons – leads to her having to give herself a stern talking-to in the patient but condescending tones of a kindergarten teacher imparting a simple lesson to a rather dim student.
Schaub’s neuroses and stubborn insistence on keeping everything, of preserving seemingly every memory, would be annoying were it not for her bracing honesty and wry self-deprecation. She is a rather witty writer, and one imagines that being her friend or colleague would be endlessly entertaining, though many of her anecdotes would no doubt lead one to shake one’s head in mock horror, intoning an “Oh, Eve…” and an exaggerated sigh.
As the year progresses Schaub reflects on what makes a person hoard material possessions, gaining new perspectives on her own cluttered ways, and realises that her parents (and their parents) and siblings all display the same traits in different ways. She also tries to figure out where the line lies between mess, clutter and hoarding, and comes up with new ways to help her prioritize what to keep, what to donate, and what to get rid of entirely.
This is not the book you buy to help provide tips and techniques to “konmari” your clutter out of existence; this is the book you buy before you start organizing, to start thinking about why you’re keeping that stuff, and maybe why you don’t need to. After all, if Eve Schaub can vanquish the Hell Room, then there’s hope for us all.
Provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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