Is it a bad sign that I can't find an overdue library book about hoarding in this mess?
I think I know the answer.
I know the answer because my guru, the FlyLady, has enlightened me:
"You can't organize clutter," she preaches to her disorganized followers. "You can only get rid of it."
Fittingly, it was Real Simple magazine that introduced me to the FlyLady. I believe it was a spring-cleaning article. The FlyLady, whose real name is Marla Cilley, gave step-by-step instructions on how to make a kitchen sink shine.
After I soaked and scoured my sink, I went online to FlyLady.net, where I learned more about her Kitchen Sink Philosophy: If you are overwhelmed by managing your house, your life, yourself, start by clearing and cleaning the sink. The shine will spread.
The first time I attended a FlyLady meeting, as a journalist, I felt as if I had happened upon a 12-step meeting:
"So, did everyone make your bed this morning?" asked the moderator.
The gaggle of FlyLady followers looked at each other over their cups at the coffeehouse.
"No!" said one woman. "I'm still struggling to make this a habit."
"My husband was in bed this morning, working on his laptop, and he wouldn't get out," said another. "So I said, 'Oh, forget it.' "
"I've been trying really hard and cleaning the sheets once a week, and the other day my husband said, 'Thank you for making the bed,' " the moderator said.
"Awwww!" the group chimed.
Suddenly, I didn't feel like an impartial observer. I felt like ... I had found my people.
Clutter is a very American problem. I know this not only from looking around my own house or from joining a decluttering group but also from reading a new, academic book that examines the issue much as anthropologists study ancient cultures.
In the book "Life At Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors," I learned that the exterior of the kitchen refrigerator can be as important as the kitchen sink:
"One of the most intriguing phenomena we have noted is a tendency for high counts of objects on refrigerator panels to co-occur with large numbers of objects per square foot in the house as a whole," the authors wrote.
"Put another way, a family's tolerance for a 'messy' refrigerator may be associated with a fairly relaxed attitude about high-density clutter in public rooms of the house -- the living room, family room, dining room and office," they wrote.
"In the small slice of life we have documented in L.A., exceptional densities of household goods, marked clutter and visually packed
My fridge is definitely a visually packed display of snapshots, menus and schedules.
So, I am determined to declutter the fridge -- and the rest of my place -- because I want my three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo to feel like an elegant hotel suite.
I love hotels. If I could, I'd live in one, like Eloise at the Plaza. Everything is so simple and clean at a hotel: Soothing, neutral colors; no knickknacks to dust; freshly laundered sheets, room service, pools.
My fireplace mantel looks like that now, but it's not my doing; it's the work of my household manager, "Mrs. Beeton."
My Mrs. Beeton, who is also the children's babysitter, is named after Isabella Beeton, the Englishwoman whose 19th-century best-selling book, "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management," is still in print.
While I was toiling one day at work, Mrs. Beeton was busy managing my household. First, she cleared the fireplace mantel of all knickknacks. Then, she hung my favorite painting -- an oil painting of my youngest child posed as Baby Jesus in the creche at our church's Nativity pageant. Later, because I couldn't help it, I added a bit more to the tableau: a vintage pewter trophy cup filled with red silk roses.
Now, after a long day, when the children are finally tucked into their beds, I often light a fire in the hearth and sit on my couch and admire the simple, beautiful, uncluttered mantel. And then I break the silence by turning on the TV so I can catch up on my favorite TV shows: "Hoarding" and "Hoarders."
Molly Guthrey can be reached at 651-228-5505.