Our local paper has a story today about the latest celebrity declutterer. She's said to be different from (list of other clutter experts) because she doesn't turn it into a spiritual exercise. Two paragraphs later, she's extolled as a "guru" who promotes "healing." Sigh. You can't have it both ways.
(This same expert boasts that she's so paper-free, she owns only two pieces of paper, both official documents.)
Do we use our stuff, or does it use us? It's not a new question (Ecclesiastes 5:13, for one). Does what we want, or what we spend on getting it, or how we store it, cause stress, create hazards, or strain relationships? If this didn't seem like a bigger problem than the occasional Mount Laundry, the newspapers wouldn't be running decluttering stories.
Let's invoke some reality. There are life situations that, by their nature, involve some clutter. It may not be pathological at all, more just about having a hard time keeping on top of the material stuff when there are other demands. Clutter-free counters are less important than making sure everyone can get at what they need. Small people who can't reach up, or any people who can't reach down, or who need visual reminders to take their vitamins or whatever, take priority over empty spaces.
The bigger problems seem to be the amount of stuff (expensive or cheap, new or thrifted, keepable or trashable) that comes into our homes; making the best use of it while we allow it space in our lives; and then letting go when its value is gone. That last is more of a problem than you'd think. I read an article recently with low-clutter gift suggestions for children, many of them paper (ironically). One was a cardboard playhouse that could easily be recycled when its time was over. Great idea, but at our house a few years ago, give-it-up time would have been never. When everything receives equal emotional investment, decluttering is not an option. (I had a cardboard house as a small child, and remember hours of neighbourhood tea parties and other goings-on inside it; but I wasn't consulted about its ultimate disposal. That may be the difference between parents in 1970 and 2010.)
So maybe the tritest slogan is also the truest: don't spend your energy loving things that can't love you back, or that may even be imprisoning you. (Textbook case: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, "The Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure." Bible case: camels and needles' eyes.) If your stuff is working for you, even if it's a mess, just clean it up when you get time. But if it's moved into neutral or negative, look at it with a sterner eye. You don't owe your things a thing,