In this case, my friend was in deep trouble up to his ears in 25 years of household clutter. I don't know when he became aware that he was in grave danger, but his normally cheerful e-mails sounded desperate. He said the clutter was so bad, there was barely a path through the living room.
The garage defied description.
I sympathized, but how could I advise him? The only reason I hadn't been declared missing years ago was that I moved often and was forced by the size limit of the moving van to throw the stuff out that threatened to bury me. So I decided to visit Amazon.com and send him a book on de-cluttering.
I was astonished to find 44 entries under "clutter." Who would have thought the world was such a mess?
I started down the list, reading the reviews.
"Clutter's Last Stand," by Don Aslett looked promising. A little humor might lighten Grim Jim's mood. Wrong. One clutterer groused: "While there was helpful advice, it was hard to find, as it was buried under mounds and mounds of cutesy cartoons and anecdotes. Just get to the point!"
Another stooped to sarcasm: "Cut the cartoons and be more concise, and the book would be easier to read and half its size. Contains some great ideas if you can find them amongst its clutter."
Apparently, people faced with serious clutter aren't easily amused.
I tried "Lighten up, Free Yourself from Clutter," by Michelle Passoff. The book's jacket called it a "transformational approaching." If stuff is not supporting and nurturing, then get rid of it. Your true self will emerge."
A reader/reviewer warned: "This book was more about New-Age Spiritism than cleaning. This book is not for true Christians."
Another book sought Divine Guidance in the cleaning process: "God, I know You're in Here Somewhere: Finding God in the Clutter of Life," by Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse. I rejected both. Jim was just looking to reclaim his living room, not his soul or true self.
"How to Conquer Clutter," by Stephanie Culp looked good. But two readers declared their enthusiasm by commanding me to READ THIS BOOK! I didn't want to subject my friend to such intimidation. On top of that, the book was said to include the "Ten Commandments of Clutter." Too "Dear Abby"-ish.
I brightened at the next one: "I'm Lettin' Go, but I Ain't Givin' Up: A Simple Guide for Cleaning the Clutter That's Draggin' You Down," by Tim Riley. It sounded so friendly and down home. But then I read, "How we can have a better relationship with ourselves and those around us." Forget it.
Wearily, I clicked on "Clutter Control," by Jeff Campbell. Now that's a clutterless title, I noted. "It's OK to throw out odd screws and old socks and other ridiculous things you think you'll use someday, but surprise, the day never comes," wrote a reader. That was the one. But before I got around to ordering the book, I got another e-mail from Jim.
"In the last two weeks, I have recycled or thrown out 57 bankers boxes plus one trip to the dump with a 14-foot truck full of stuff. The last storage unit will be empty by next Wednesday. The garage and living room are still full, but that will be taken care of soon." he wrote.
How about that? Just as well I hadn't sent the book. It would have ended up at the dump, and I'd have been out 12 bucks.