Dealing with clutter can be a daunting task.
Here’s how one family copes with the chaos

Written by CAROL POND   Illustration by WEST MAÄTITA

Illustration by WEST MAÄTITAIn the 12 years we’ve lived in our home it’s become increasingly cluttered. Decorating is less “Where should we hang this painting?” and more “Is there a corner we can shove this carton in?”
Having run out of corners, closets and wall space, we’ve started piling containers in the middle of rooms and have learned to step around them on our way from here to there.
A few months ago my son’s family of five returned to the nest—a nest that wasn’t yet empty, the economy being what it is—and they’ve brought their own cartons along.
Because we have so many people in so little space—and because the 2-year-old has taken to scaling the cartons like an experienced rock climber and the 1-year-old has begun to fearlessly follow in her footsteps—we decided it was time to turn to an expert for help.
At the library we found a couple of books that looked promising.
“Clean Sweep: Conquer the Clutter” is based on an old TV show. We never saw it because at the time we couldn’t find our TV remote. We had the remote that turned on the set and the one that changed the volume. We had the remote for watching the VHS or DVDs, and the remote for video games. But we couldn’t find the remote that let us change the channel, and the set was stuck on TV Land for three years. Needless to say, we didn’t watch much TV.

 Illustration by WEST MAÄTITAThe Clean Sweep crew suggests sorting everything into piles: keep, toss, sell. The whole family should help, which means every time one of us puts something in the toss or sell pile, someone else will say, “Are you crazy?!” and put it in the keep carton. So we’d have piles of the same stuff, just in a different order.
I turned to the other book, “Outwitting Clutter,” by Bill Adler Jr., which claims it will teach me how to declutter my life in one-, five- and 15-minute increments. That’s perfect because it isn’t often I can go more than 15 minutes without someone deciding mine is the time that most needs monopolizing.
Adler suggests choosing a drawer or a cupboard, setting a timer for 15 minutes, and clearing out what you can in that time period.
That seemed easy enough. When the younger granddaughters were napping and the oldest was outside waiting for the ice cream truck, I chose a kitchen junk drawer to clean.
It was full of bottle caps, wine corks and other odds and ends. As I piled the stuff on the counter, the 7-year-old granddaughter charged into the kitchen.
“What’re you doing? Can I help?” she asked. “Can
I have these?” She started grabbing handfuls of bottle caps, strewing them over the counter and the floor.
“What for?”
“I have a bottle cap collection.”
She grabbed a grocery bag and swept in most of the caps, which jingled forlornly at the bottom.
“Thanks, Grandma!” she shouted and charged out the door.
I turned to the corks, figuring I’d toss them in the trash, when my husband came in.
“What are you doing with those?”
“Throwing them away.”
“I was going to use them.”
“For what?”
“I figured I’d make a raft.”
“A raft??”
“A toy one. To float in the creek.” He found a box and piled the corks into it.
Most of the drawer’s contents had been spirited away to other places in the house. Not quite the outcome I was hoping for.
I picked up an odd-looking contraption that could only be called a whatchamacallit, which Webster’s defines as a “thingamajig.”
My son walked into the kitchen.
“Where’d you find that?” he asked.
“It was in this drawer.”
“I’ve been looking for that for years!” He took it and went back down the hall, calling for his wife. “Remember that thing I was telling you about that time?”
All that was left was an old bottle/can opener, which is obsolete because all the bottles have screw tops and all the cans have pop tops. Perhaps we could donate it to a museum of antiquities.
The timer dinged. The drawer was empty.
Just then I heard the jangle of “Turkey in the Straw” from down the street. I tossed the bottle opener into the otherwise empty drawer, slammed it shut and ran out to catch the ice cream truck with my granddaughter. A reward for a job well done.

Written by CAROL POND   Illustration by WEST MAÄTITA