Clutter and Claustrophobia

I have claustrophobia, I hate clutter, and I think there’s a link between those two facts.

Not that I’ve always lived clutter-free; quite the opposite, in fact. There were many years that I had a basement overwhelmed with clutter. That was where I put it to keep it out of our living areas. I just didn’t have time to deal with it then, but the fact of its existence drove me crazy.

I didn’t learn that I was claustrophobic until I was in my 40s. Now I understand why I refuse to fly (those planes are so darn tiny inside, and the seating is so close together!), why I prefer an aisle seat at church or the movie theater, and why I like lots of space between me and the car ahead of me.

No wonder I hate seeing piles of stuff, stuff all over the floor or stuff all over the counters. I’m at peace when my desk is clear, my floors are clear and my counters are clear. When messes start piling up, I get a little cranky. I begin to feel a little…trapped.

I like space and freedom. When my basement work area is cluttered with fabric, or the remains of some craft project, I’m not happy. When the project is over and the tables are clear, my basement goes back to having possibilities: we can have the family over to eat there, we can wrap Christmas presents there, or the tables can be taken down to make a big open space for the little ones to run around when they come over.

Clutter-free zones make my little house feel larger and make me feel at peace instead of claustrophobic. I wonder how many other claustrophobic declutterers there are; we should form a club!

She Just Keeps Stacking

I have a relative who easily qualifies as a hoarder. She has stuff everywhere: stacked up against furniture, stacked on the counters, stacked in closets. She keeps all four bedroom doors closed when we come over; I can guess why. Behind her shower curtain (yes, I peeked) is a stack of wet towels piled as high as my hip.

That word stacked is significant here. She has run out of places to put things so she just stacks them wherever she can. I find it very alarming. I think it sets off my claustrophobia to see so much stuff at one time, all those stacks.

Once when we were visiting, a bunch of stuff suddenly fell off the top of a bookcase, startling everyone. She was embarrassed, and I felt bad for her. That was a few years ago, and there is still a stack on that bookcase.

Back when I had a big house and lots of kids, and lots of their clutter in addition to my own, I was not a stacker. My counters were fairly clear, my end tables uncluttered, and my bookcases topped by one or two decorative items. You would never know that I had a lot of stuff because it was all in my basement. I regularly cleared out the living areas, but having no time to go through everything, just put it all in the basement and the crawl space.

This worked fine until we suddenly sold our house and had less than a month to get out. There was no time to go through anything, much less everything. We lugged it all out of the basement, into trucks, and off to storage, then spent the next couple of years going through it, and eventually selling or donating the lions’ share of it.

It’s not as though I forgot all that stuff was down there. In fact, I used to dream about burning everything in the basement so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. The problem was that I knew about 10% of the stuff was either important papers or treasured keepsakes. I just never had time to find those things until I was forced to.

This is the problem with my relative. She is not a particularly busy person; she doesn’t work and her kids are grown. She just hasn’t been forced to deal with her clutter. And so she continues to stack it to the ceiling. *Shudder*