American dilemma: Your clutter or your life

Howard Mansfield / Los Angeles Times /

Published Sep 29, 2013 at 05:00AM

They have become a defining characteristic of the roadside, wedged in among the malls and fast-food franchises, barrack — like rows of buildings with small garage doors, surrounded by a fence. A gated enclave for excess stuff.

There are 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in America, or more than 7 square feet for every, man, woman and child in the country. Texas, Florida and California lead the country with the most storage space. It’s now “physically possible that every American could stand — all at the same time — under the total canopy of self-storage roofing,” boasts the Self Storage Association. There are about 51,000 storage facilities in the country — more than four times the number of McDonald’s.

The storage shed is a symptom of our cluttered lives. Clutter is the cholesterol of the home; it’s clogging the hearth. The “Clean Sweep” team from the television show of that name usually hauls away about half a ton of trash from each house that it rescues from clutter. (Which may explain why 23 percent of Americans admit to paying bills late because they can’t find them, and why 25 percent of people with two-car garages have to park their cars outside.)

“We have too much. We’re over-housed, over-clothed, overfed and over-entertained,” said Don Aslett, getting right to the point. Aslett would know; he’s been poking around houses for 50 years. In college, Aslett started what has become one of the country’s largest cleaning companies, and his books on clutter helped to establish the genre.

Somewhere in there, between the physical and virtual clutter, we are losing the ordinary qualities of home — the solitude to recollect, the time for families to talk. We are losing the “nothing much” that is home. The room for tumult and quiet, for passing the time with friends, for the ordinary pleasures of a day well lived.

A happy home, said the philosopher Gaston Bachelard, frees us to daydream. It allows us to “dream well,” he said, and enlarge our imagination.

Clutter is choking our shelters. Is there any room left for us in our houses?

Take this advice from the decluttering coach who calls herself “FlyLady”: Grab 27 things and remove them. Repeat. What’s keeping you from living? Throw it all away, step over it, push it into a corner. Just go live your life.

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