Friday, December 28, 2012

BC2012: It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh

Often I buy a book long before I decide to read it. This book was a different situation. I looked at it many times in 2010 (there was one copy in the clearance section of Borders in Schaumburg for months), but it never seemed like anything I wanted to read. Maybe I was tricked into picking it up over and over by the Beatle-esque title. Anyway, last month I saw it at Half Price Books for $2, flipped through it, and suddenly it seemed very relevant. The experience reminded me of the Tom Waits song "San Diego Serenade" which includes the line "I never heard the melody until I needed the song." You don't notice something until you really need it.

Loyal readers may recall that I read The Secret Lives of Hoarders by Matt Paxton six months ago. Out of nearly 120 books I've read this year, that is the one I would describe as "life-changing." I have devoted many hours and many garbage bags to the task of decluttering our house this year. But it's hard to stay committed and enthusiastic about a project for a long time, especially one so daunting and far-reaching. When I started reading It's All Too Much a few weeks ago, I hadn't made noticeable progress in six weeks. This book turned out to be the kick in the butt I needed to get back to work. I've been focusing on the attic since we're having some work done there soon, and I've been emptying out box after box of stuff, compacting nine boxes of junk into two boxes of things worth keeping.

While The Secret Lives of Hoarders is more of a "case study" book, It's All Too Much is more of a "how-to" guide. There is a certain stigma attached to hoarding, but this book seems oriented toward milder cases--"people with too much stuff" rather than "people with a debilitating mental illness." Walsh leads the reader through the decluttering process room by room, and then he offers advice to maintain balance in the home. My wife and I both need to change our  behavior if we are going to successfully manage this house.

Walsh stresses that the stuff isn't the real problem. There are almost always underlying emotional or psychological issues involved (though they may not be as severe as those of "hoarders"). I'm a little uneasy because I can't identify what those issues are in our case. I found something unsettling in one of the boxes in the attic, though: file folders for my business, ending in early 1998 when I moved out of my condo and eventually into our house (after a layover of a few months at my then-fiancĂ©e's apartment). There it was, proof that at one time I was extremely well-organized. My business records from 1998 to the present, on the other hand, were in piles and boxes. What happened? Did I just get lazy? I guess that's something I need to figure out in 2013.

He also believes that removing the clutter from your home can lead to a better life in all areas. It's as if you can't see how to improve your relationships, your career, or your body until you get the clutter out of the way.

Paxton's book was a great inspiration to me, but It's All Too Much is a more practical, tactical guide to dealing with clutter. I'd have a hard time recommending one over the other. If you're dealing with hoarding and/or clutter, you'll probably benefit from both.

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