In search of the uncluttered life


I am writing this from an undisclosed location, where my husband Ronny has been sequestered under my supervision for his own good. A short stay away from home in a controlled environment was determined to be the necessary first step in his post-intervention program.

Ronny suffers from a variant of disposophobia, although you may know it better as compulsive hoarding syndrome. The disposophobia website informs us that "disposophobics are generally very smart people who can't, don't or won't make fast value judgments about their 'stuff,' so their solution is to keep everything." Exactement!

In spite of the irritation Ronny's disorder has caused his family, it is not of the true pathological variety. He is in no danger, for example, of becoming one of those realityTV specimens who has to eat standing up because his tables and counters are covered with clutter.

Daily garbage is not Ronny's issue. Just actual possessions. His disorder manifests itself along three distinct lines. One: If he especially likes, or thinks he may have use for a certain product (blank VHS videocassettes, anyone?) he becomes irrationally convinced that it will suddenly disappear from the marketplace, so he buys up lifetime supplies. The second is his inability to discard a gift. He still has a CCM bike and a boxful of Waterman, Parker and Shaeffer fountain pens he got for his bar mitzvah.

And third, there are his "collections." I'm not unreasonable. Coin collections, stamp collections I understand. The hundreds of painted lead soldiers and farm animals requiring 50 linear feet of shelving to display? I get that. The 32 Jeep replicas of all sizes (one houses a bottle of brandy under the hood), fine. I even acknowledge the normalcy of the 40 baseball caps he's accumulated because he liked the logos - Wimbledon, Home Depot, Snowdon Deli: he's eclectic - but never wears. But 16 humidifiers?

Yes, really.

But purging most of this stuff became a necessity for Ronny this year. We're moving out of the too-large Edwardian pile where we've lived for more than 30 years, and into a smaller 3-bedroom home around the corner. For me, the move is a liberation. (Only triaging my bookshelves gave me a pang. Then I conceded I would never again browse through my undergraduate interlinear translation of Chaucer's complete works; I tossed it into a carton, and I didn't look back.) But giving up all the rooms that had become his personal storage space was Ronny's worst nightmare.

The prospect was so painful, in fact, that he's outsourced the job to our daughter.

Now headed for charity or the garbage dump are (in part): multiple bags of char-coal (we've used a gas barbecue for 20 years); memorabilia from presidential campaigns going back to Kennedy-Nixon; my long-deceased mother-inlaw's 1960s income tax records; unopened boxes of crystal Christmas plates (we don't celebrate Christmas); at least 30 pairs of gloves, many with the price tags dangling; dozens of picture frames; 10 pairs of dollar-store reading glasses; an ancient cash register; two VCRs, 16 obsolete remote controls; 13 hockey sticks; several Polaroid cameras; and a stack of sale-bought "Happy 100th birthday" cocktail napkins (destined to be used for the party of no one in particular).

We also have artifacts indicating that there was a huge sale on WD-40 at Canadian Tire circa 1982, not to mention black shoe polish, gas line antifreeze and Lysol - all of it still plastic-wrapped in cardboard palettes.

When we return, the emptied house can finally be put on the market. I'm so grateful to my daughter for slogging through the muck, the very thought of which made me shudder.

Actually, she enjoyed it. My son would have, too. From their aversion training as children, like the teetotal offspring of alcoholics, they became manic de-clutterers as adults. Their houses are scarily tidy. Culling is their watchword. All toys and clothing are frequently, rigorously monitored for any hint of superannuity. Their children's art is admired, then scanned electronically and thrown into the recycle bin within minutes. Given their formative experience, such clutterphobia is not unusual. There's even a website for people like them:

There are support groups for spouses of hoarders, too. But I won't need them. Ronny's hoarding ways and my enabling days are over. For decades we have walked through the valley of garbage. From now on, in our smaller house, we will fear no clutter. And when we are buried, it will be in the earth - not under a mountain of 144 plastic beavers marked "MONTREAL OLYMPICS 1976."