Thursday, November 12, 2009

War on Stuff

I officially declare war on Stuff of all kinds. "Stuff," despite popular belief, is not inanimate. "Stuff" is alive. Worse yet, it lives, breathes, and grows in direct proportion to your desire to get rid of it.


The most evil of Stuff (also known as Clutter) often tries masking itself as "Useful Objects." Its most powerful weapon is disagreement between a husband and wife about where items should reside when not in use. For instance, my husband believes that sunglasses, receipts, tools, pens, dog toys, gloves, remote controls, eye drops, passports, Mojito recipes, and trash all belong on the dining room table at all times. And that belief empowers Stuff. It allows it to recruit more, bigger, and increasingly immoveable troops. These cling to one another with great magnetic strength, fueled not just by gender differences but by the very core of the Earth. That's where more Stuff lives than anyone could conceive of. For starters, undiscovered Liberace paraphernalia, thousands of Westminster Dog Show programs, and your missing watch are actually down there.

My favorite futile method to conquer Stuff is the "geographical cure." I spend hours daily carrying Stuff from one location to another. I'll move some photos from downstairs to upstairs. I'll move a broken light fixture from upstairs to downstairs. Drinking glasses are always going from up to down; shoes are always going from down to up. But listen closely, and you'll hear Stuff actually snickering as you transport it to its proper home. It knows that the minute you turn your back it will break out again, scattering like a house of cards into chaos, slithering to inconvenient surfaces, multiplying, and consuming small children in its path just like The Blob. And this isn't as desirable as it sounds.

No, Stuff is a germ, a disease. I blame Stuff for why I've yet to write a book. I can't find all my book ideas under all my Stuff. Plus Stuff paralyzes with guilt. Should I ever manage to sit and start a chapter, Stuff insists that instead of writing, I should be writhing—in the agony of having nowhere to stuff all this unstuffable Stuff. If you inventoried my office desktop right now you'd find, among many other out-of-place items, carpet cleaner, a folding umbrella, and a jar of mustard, placed by my computer because I need to visit the mustard company's Web site. This jar does turn my office into a "safe room" in which I could survive a condiment embargo, but still.

What did I do to make Stuff want to torment me? I usually use it as directed. I cook with Kitchen Stuff, primp with Bathroom Stuff, get work done with Office Stuff. I then have the best of intentions for putting Stuff away. But what happens instead? Stuff puts me away. In an institution. I've heard that when you walk into a cluttered room, your brain automatically starts organizing everything. This depletes mental resources and drains you. Let's be honest—it literally attacks you. Just yesterday you would have found me in the bedroom, CDs hovering at my feet, laundry wrapped around my waist, and magazines hanging around my neck. I was Live Stuff Walking.

I'm terrified to go to sleep at night – terrified that the next time I wake up, it will finally be the day when Stuff wins the war. There won't just be junk mail, water bottles, and gum wrappers following me around like Pigpen's dust cloud. Having defeated me in a coup, Stuff will then set my house ablaze as platoons of light bulbs, picture hangers, and printer cartridges initiate a civil war to capture valuable space occupied by nail polish, books, and plant food. Coupons and DVDs will self-combust in attempts to asphyxiate sports equipment and gift wrap. I'll run screaming down the street, trying to escape droves of bloodthirsty extension cords and toilet paper rolls.


After I escape, you'll find me living in a cave, having vowed never to own one single solitary piece of Stuff ever again. Not one! (Luckily, a blanket made out of insect-studded bat fur and a jar of mustard don't count.)