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How many magnets are on your fridge? August 18, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I recently read a decluttering pundit’s statement that the more magnets and the like were on a person’s fridge, the more cluttered their home was. She could look at a photo of the fridge and predict the state of the house with what she considered 100% accuracy.

Hmmmm, I thought. Is this true? And if so, what do you mean by clutter?

Looking at the refrigerator our friend Ben and I share at our tiny cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, I certainly can see a wealth of magnets on the doors. (My favorite remains the one of then-President George W. Bush at Pope John Paul II’s funeral; the Pope is lying in an open casket, robed in red, and W is asking, “What happened to Santa?” But I digress.) Each of these magnets has been carefully chosen because it symbolizes something to us. There’s not one random or meaningless piece of junk on our refrigerator, and every time we look at those doors, they make us laugh, inspire us, refresh our spirits, remind us of joyous vacations. In other words, they enhance our lives.

The same is true of the things that we bring into our home. We have thousands of books, each individually selected and treasured. We have rocks, fossils, and shells, stamps and marbles, chess sets and foreign coins. We collect prints, original paintings, and photos that speak to us of the beauty of nature. OFB has his Pueblo pottery; I have my quilt and historic textile collection. We both have a weakness for beautiful rugs (though we don’t put them on the floor or our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, would eat them). Every single thing that we have acquired has great meaning and value to us; like the refrigerator magnets, they brighten and enrich our lives.

To me, “clutter” implies piles of random, worthless stuff you’d be far better off clearing out. You could be referring to piles of unwashed dishes, mounds of unopened mail, towers of unread newspapers, bags of outgrown clothes you’d meant to take to Goodwill but that somehow ended up stacked behind the garage door instead. Clutter is an impediment to living. It makes life harder and uglier, it trips you up on your way, it shames you. It diminishes you as a person, condemns you as a failure for being unable to cope with the burden of your worthless possessions.

This is certainly not the case for me and OFB. I have spent a great deal of time and thought figuring out how we can both enjoy our collections without having them take over the house. Since Hawk’s Haven is small, open space (or the illusion of open space) is absolutely essential.

The answer is clever storage solutions and rotation of displays. This not only keeps what’s visible at any time to a minimum, but keeps our collections fresh for us as well as for visitors, since you never know what you’ll be seeing. The idea occurred to me because, since so much of our wall space is occupied by bookshelves, there simply wasn’t enough space to display all our art and still keep plenty of free off-white wall, which I felt was essential to provide the illusion of spaciousness, not to mention give our eyes some rest. Rotation, rotation, rotation. It lets you have your collections and enjoy them, too!

So, ‘fess up: How many magnets are on your fridge?

          ‘Til next time,



Clutter vs. Sex September 9, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, a fact-checker called me to verify some quotes from an interview I’d given a writer on clutter control. (In case you were wondering, that’s what fact-checkers do: verify that people have actually said what the writer claims they’ve said before an article goes into print or online.) I’d been interviewed as one of a group of clutter-control experts for a piece about how clutter affects health. I’ve done interviews on clutter control before, of course, but health was a new angle, and I’d been intrigued.

Incidentally, my all-time favorite definition of an expert is one I heard years ago from that great American plantsman, Allan Armitage: “An expert is someone who’s 25 miles from home with a box of slides.” That about sums it up, doesn’t it? But now that slides have gone the way of the VHS tape, it’s time to update that definition to fit our modern reality. Suggestions?

Anyway, the fact-checker verified my quotes, then mentioned that the writer had arranged the article into five ways that clutter affected health. One of them was clearly bothering her.

“It says here, as point #4, that clutter affects your sex life.”

I started laughing. “Well, you know, that’s true,” I said, thinking through the implications.

“How can clutter affect someone’s sex life?!”

“Well, if your bed is buried under a mountain of clutter, how often are you going to have sex on it? And if your bedroom looks like a pigsty, that’s not exactly conducive to romance.”

There was a pause. Then the fact-checker said, in a tiny voice, “I sleep on my couch. I use my bed to store my clothes on, and always sleep on my couch.”

Oh good lord. Taken aback, I said what I always say when nothing else seems possible, but a response is clearly called for: “Mmmm.”

“But the rest of my apartment is immaculate.”


Fortunately, the fact-checker spared me the details of her sex life, or lack thereof. But I’m hoping she has a boyfriend with a nice apartment and a big, clutter-free bed.

If you’re having trouble with clutter, see my earlier post, “Five fast tips for clutter control,” for some quick and easy solutions. But if you’re having trouble with your sex life, friends, you’re on your own.

           ‘Til next time,


Five fast tips for clutter control. June 6, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. With bathing suit season upon us, we’re all obsessed with losing pounds. But I’d like to suggest that most of us need to shrink the stuff in our houses as well as ourselves. You know what I’m talking about: clutter. Like excess weight, it creeps up on us slowly, bit by bit, so we don’t even know it’s there until you can’t set a bag of groceries on the kitchen counter—and nothing on the counter even belongs in the kitchen in the first place!—or open the refrigerator door without magnets and whatnots crashing off. Let’s not even talk about the avalanche of clothes spilling out of the closet, the corroded cosmetics in the medicine cabinet, the plastic bags and containers bursting out from beneath the sink. Or, of course, that lava flow of unidentified stuff where your kid’s floor used to be.

Clutter is bad for morale. Once you do notice it, you may feel overwhelmed. How can you possibly clear it out and restore order? Better go shopping to make yourself feel better! It’s also bad for the budget. If you find yourself buying more of something, be it a spice, shampoo, or even an appliance, even though you know you already have one (somewhere), but can’t even begin to face trying to find it among the bazillion other items packed in every available storage space or surface area, you are wasting money.

It’s time to put that clutter in its place—and that place is outside your home. And yes, you can do it, even if it’s hard for you to find ten minutes of free time. The key is to start small. Remember the old story of the woman who bought some beautiful flowers? She brought them home, found a vase, dusted it off, and put them in it. They looked beautiful! She took them out and set them on her table. As she did so, she noticed that the table was dusty. Rather than looking beautiful, the flowers looked awful on the dusty table. So she cleaned and polished the table. Now the table gleamed, and the flowers looked beautiful! But then she saw that the light fixture was covered with cobwebs, the rug was dirty, the walls… you get the idea. Before she knew it, the woman had cleaned the whole room!

This is the way to tackle clutter, too. It came into the house bit by bit; get it out again bit by bit. Just five minutes a day can make a huge difference by the end of the month. Focus on one manageable task each day: a drawer in the bathroom vanity, the coffee table, a dresser drawer, the car floor, the kitchen junk drawer. Slowly but surely wins the race! 

There are tons of tips and tricks for clearing out clutter. Let me just start you off with five of my faves. If you like ’em, there are plenty more where those came from—just let me know! I like these ’cause they’re quick and easy.

1. One in, one out. I love this easy rule for clutter control. Make this deal with yourself: If you buy anything, you have to get rid of a similar thing you already have. If you can’t resist a new pair of earrings, give one you no longer love away, donate it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, sell it through an eBay store or consignment shop. Same with new shoes, new cookware, new appliances, new collectibles, new salad dressings, you name it. This not only puts a stop to clutter creep, it makes you think twice before you buy. You’ll find yourself asking, “Do I really want that? Do I want it more than what I already have?” If the answer is yes, you have the satisfaction of knowing you’re not junking up the house with yet more stuff; if it’s no, you can congratulate yourself for saving money.   

2. Don’t buy if you can borrow. If you love movies, music, books, magazines, and the like, your shelves and surfaces can quickly vanish under an erupting volcano of same. In this case, your local library, Netflix, and movie rental stores can be your best friends. If you read, watch, or listen to it and find you simply must have it, okay: back to the “One in, one out” rule. Otherwise, you’ve gotten pleasure from it without having to find a place to store it. This rule also holds true for appliances you only use occasionally: If you need a rotary tiller once a season, or a chipper-shredder, or a chainsaw, or whatever, rent it, don’t buy it. You’ll save money, maintenance, and storage space.   

3. Steer clear of holiday cheer. If you love decorating for the holidays, I don’t have to tell you how fast your drawers, cabinets, plastic storage containers, and closet, attic, and basement space can fill up with those Hallowe’en placemats and centerpieces, Christmas tablecloths, aprons, and napkins, St. Paddy’s window decorations, and the like. You only use this stuff once a year, but you have to make room to store it all year. Instead, why not buy a tablecloth, placemats, napkins, or whatever for each season, and then customize it for the holidays with something you don’t have to store: seasonal plants, flowers, fruits, or vegetables. Mums, mini-pumpkins, and ornamental corn can make a great table display for fall; pots of forced bulbs or wheatgrass look fresh and lovely in spring; poinsettias or Christmas cacti can brighten the winter table, and pomanders—clove-studded apples and oranges—can add a heavenly fragrance that just screams “holidays.” And of course, bowls of seasonal veggies or fruits and vases of flowers can create an ever-changing summer display. Think how this would cut down on holiday storage space, so you could save it for things that really matter, like favorite Christmas ornaments.    

4. If you don’t use it, lose it. That drink mixer/ice cream maker/slicer-dicer/fondue pot/tabletop grill/you name it sounded great. You had to have one! But now that you think about it, you’ve never used it, or never liked it, or used it once and thought, gee, this is really hard to clean. Or maybe Aunt Bertha and Uncle Mike gave you a duplicate food processor or printer or DVD player, but the one you have works just fine. Clear out stuff you don’t use. Donate it, barter it, give it to someone who needs it, give it away on Freecycle, sell it on Craigslist or eBay: Get it outta there! Think how great it will be to make room for the stuff you do use.   

5. Avoid temptation. If you’re trying to lose weight and you’re addicted to doughnuts or fried chicken, it makes sense to stay far, far away from Dunkin’ Donuts or KFC. If you know, you simply know, that you cannot go to a flea market or yard sale or spice store or antiques show or department store or shoe store or bookstore or… well, whatever it is you can’t resist, without buying something, just say no. Run away! Ditto for online venues that make it even easier to buy. If you don’t see it, you can’t buy it, right? Your home, your family, and your bank account will thank you. 

Go for it, and good luck! And remember, it’s a lot easier to help your house lose excess pounds than to get them off yourself! You may even find, as I did, that it’s kind of thrilling to put together a weekly bag for the Goodwill or Salvation Army, and to feel the satisfaction of watching stuff go—and room grow.

               ‘Til next time,