The Clutter Cycle

Roadsign-Falling-rocksI am watching television in the basement when…

Bump, thump, bump, CRASH!

An avalanche of household goods cascades down the basement stairs.

“What the…?” I cry.

“Put your junk away!” my wife yells. A moment later a 50′ extension cord whistles through the air and flops on the carpet.

Throwing stuff down the stairs is her way of moving things from the upstairs to the downstairs.  She has bad knees, so it is understandable that she avoids using the stairs whenever she can – but being married to me, it is also understandable that she uses a dramatic flair whenever she can.

I examine the stuff at the bottom of the steps.  I find an old-style phone charger resting across the litter of several magazines, all featuring Jennifer Aniston on the cover, and a sponge mop leaning precariously against the stairway wall.

“Hey,” I yell back up the stairs, “Nothing here is mine.”  I place emphasis on the word mine to distinguish ownership from ours.

“Well, it doesn’t belong up here.”

“Then throw it away,” I yell.

“I want to keep it,” she says.

“Then find a home for it.”

“I just did,” she snaps.

“So what am I supposed to do with it?”

“Throw it on THE PILE.”

THE PILE is an interesting geological feature that emerged from the southeast corner of our basement soon after we moved in. It consists of all the things my wife wants to keep but does not want to see.

But the basement is the only place where I get to see the stuff that I want to keep.  It is my domain and therefore things in the THE PILE that are not mine, inevitably and slyly, work their way back up the stairs.

This re-circulation process – whereby items fly down the stairs then surreptitiously crawl back up is known as The Clutter Cycle.

It begins when an object finds its way into the stream of daily life. For several days, this newly acquired thing will merrily ply the eddies of everyday use, bobbing and twirling about until we lose interest in it and it becomes clutter.

The sports section of a newspaper carelessly cast upon the floor will inevitably attract another section of the newspaper – which in turn becomes the base for next week’s edition. Soon a novel joins it – then a pair of tennis shoes and perhaps a plate or even a pot roast will settle in – and before you know it, the house has become host to a full-blown reef.

Reefs are excellent places to sprinkle magazines that endlessly about babble on about Jennifer Aniston. So it is there that I reintroduce them into The Clutter Cycle.

If an item is small, I return it to The Junk Drawer.

The drawer holds everything that cannot be excluded by size. It is the tar pit of our household, the site where archaeologists will one day dig to learn our ancient secrets.

“Oh look! I found a cabinet knob!” one future archaeologist will cry as she hands it to her colleague, “Could this be the remnant of cabinets gone by?”

“Naw,” her colleague will say, “it is an artifact of a promise gone by. The one where Greg promised to replace the knobs in the vanity but forgot where he tossed them.”

If the object is large, I will stash it in The Stair That Lead Nowhere.

Behind a door in our hall, a long stairway ascends straight up into the ceiling. It is if the contractors who built our house were not on speaking terms. The roofer apparently was not informed that our house was designed to be two stories and the carpenter who built the stairs left it there as a joke.

We place things we want to keep handy at the bottom of The Stairs That Lead Nowhere and we toss the stuff we don’t want to keep handy up the stairs. Of course, the junk at the top gets jealous and slides down to the bottom.

But no worries, whenever we want something, we simply open the door and everything tumbles out. In the process of tossing everything back in, we stand a good chance of finding what we are looking for.

So with the magazines stashed in the living room reef, the phone charger buried in the junk drawer and the mop and extension cord tossed to the top of the stairs that lead nowhere, I return to the contentment of the basement.

Then my wife’s phone rings.  Through the floor, I hear faint murmuring and mutterings for the better part of an hour before the conversation is concluded with an audible GASP!


Bump, thump, bump, CRASH!

“What the…?” I cry.  But I get no response. All I hear is footsteps scurrying frantically overhead.

After threading my way up the stairs, I ask, “What is going on?”

She shoves a large section of the reef into my arms. “I am hosting a baby shower on Friday. Do something with this!”

“But.. but..” I stutter.

“Quite arguing and get busy – and for Pete Sake, do something about YOUR Pile in the Basement.”

Author: Almost Iowa

41 thoughts on “The Clutter Cycle”

  1. Clutter is the way I stay in shape. Well, it’s what keeps me moving about. I have to shift our stuff from place to place. I’ve been doing it for years. We are empty nesters finally and people ask if we are bored or lonely. Shoot no. I’m moving my stuff around and have twenty five years of stuff I haven’t had time to sort through just waiting to be looked at. I get it. Clutter. hmmm You can tell your wife it’s important to have gatherings and company to move the clutter out of sight on a regular basis. It makes you feel like a neat nick for a few days.

  2. Jeez, this made my skin crawl. My ex was… I hate to say hoarder. Let’s just say squirreler. His designated crypt was the HUGE room over our 2+ car garage. This was his shop, his model railroad set up, his collection of every Apple computer ever made. Oh, sorry. I have to go take a pill.

  3. When we get invited to other people’ homes, they usually have spent a good amount of time tidying up for company. I often fantasize that their homes are always that neat and uncluttered. It’s good to know from your post and most of the comments that it ain’t necessarily so. Whew, I feel so much better about our mess.

    1. Show me a house that is neat and clean enough for company and I will show you a house that no one wants to be forced to live in.

      You might get a kick out of this story. It is what happens when the mother-in-law comes to visit. See Deep Cleaning

  4. Ha! I loved your categories and had all three before I FINALLY decluttered and started living lightly. But even now, If I stay in a place more than a month, acquisitions attach themselves to me and I have to be firm and cast them off. Thanks for liking my pist

  5. I keep telling myself that I will dedicate one hour a day to declutter/get rid of stuff but I rarely find the time. Your story makes me glad we don’t have a basement or stairs.

  6. Very funny and I’m so glad to know that there are more people like my husband and I. I’ve been de-cluttering for a number of years and yet there’s more clutter piling up. I suppose most of the de-cluttering I do is for tomorrow.

  7. I’m not married, I don’t have any basement or stairs, and I’ve been decluttering for so many years there’s really not much left to toss around, but you’ve given me my Proustian moment for the day with those two little words: junk drawer.

    I can see it in every detail, in the house I grew up in: a large, squarish drawer between the refrigerator and the built-in oven. The cabinetry had copper pulls, and when you pulled that drawer out — well. I can see: rubber bands, a tiny metal tape measure, extra batteries, a screwdriver, extra lids for canning jars, a blue plastic coaster, a few plastic body parts from an old Cootie game. There’s more, but I think I’ll just sit here and look at it for a while. I sure would like to be back there with my folks, just for a while. I’d even clean out the drawer for them.

    1. There is a wonderful moment from the AMC series Mad Men where Don Draper is discussing how to sell the Kodak slide carousel. He says this, but he could just as well be speaking of memory.

      “Nostalgia – its delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

  8. You expose the underbelly of our secret piles … ‘Er I mean lives 😍 Not only can I NOT keep up with the piles, but I have several drawers that are literally empty to heave them in if ‘company’ is coming. Woe to he/she who knocks unexpectedly …

  9. To echo MPR, I am forever at the mercy of “the project,” as it/they are endless. This usually requires a strategic relocation of our clutter (which I would argue, unsuccessfully, is mostly hers), to the point where we are now in discussions about buying a shed, to where particularly heinous items can be banished for all time. Pray for me…

  10. You cannot even begin to imagine how much I can relate to this post. A year ago we moved everything from the basement into the garage to begin “the basement project,” aka ripping out paneling carpet, Styrofoam ceiling panels (yes, crazy), etc. and waterproofing the basement. A year later and “the project” is still not done due to various family situations which stole away our time and focus. Most of the basement stuff in the garage has not been viewed/used in a year. Perhaps we don’t need it. More and more I want less stuff. The basement seems a good place to start.

  11. Very funny. Seems like we all have our piles hidden somewhere, some obvious, others not so much . But sooner or later our sins all overflow…:)

  12. This has to be one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read on clutter. The Stairs that Lead Nowhere… hilarious! That could be the title of a book on the phenomenon of clutter which my husband and I were just waxing philosophic about this morning. This article just confirms my fervent belief that clutter has energy and if not full-blown consciousness at least sub-consciousness: it moves here and there throughout the house, shifting its weight and presence from place to place. It wants/needs to make itself known.

    1. This article just confirms my fervent belief that clutter has energy and if not full-blown consciousness at least sub-consciousness:

      Of course you are right. But here I covered only the cold and indifferent geological forces. I hadn’t the courage to address the clutter that is possessed by evil spirits. No one who does their writing in a basement would attempt that.

      1. My husband and I have suffered each other’ for 45 years this coming August. Doesn’t look like we’re getting off the hook. He still looks the same to me!

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