Monday, 8 February 2016

Mess / Barry Yourgrau

4 out of 5 stars
Hilarious and poignant, a glimpse into the mind of someone who is both a sufferer from and an investigator of clutter.Millions of Americans struggle with severe clutter and hoarding. New York writer and bohemian Barry Yourgrau is one of them. Behind the door of his Queens apartment, Yourgrau’s life is, quite literally, chaos. Confronted by his exasperated girlfriend, a globe-trotting food critic, he embarks on a heartfelt, wide-ranging, and too often uproarious project―part Larry David, part Janet Malcolm―to take control of his crammed, disorderly apartment and life, and to explore the wider world of collecting, clutter, and extreme hoarding.Encounters with a professional declutterer, a Lacanian shrink, and Clutterers Anonymous―not to mention England’s most excessive hoarder―as well as explorations of the bewildering universe of new therapies and brain science, help Yourgrau navigate uncharted territory: clearing shelves, boxes, and bags; throwing out a nostalgic cracked pasta bowl; and sorting through a lifetime of messy relationships. Mess is the story of one man’s efforts to learn to let go, to clean up his space (physical and emotional), and to save his relationship.

What a mix of emotions I felt while reading this memoir of an extreme clutterer and how he, as the subtitle says, cleans up his house and his act.

First, I felt sympathy. After all, I know what my guest room currently looks like. It has become a dumping ground for unmade decisions and it’s one of my projects for February—get it fit to receive guests once again. It’s very hard in a society such as ours, which pushes consumerism and acquisition as the route to salvation, to keep clutter under control.

Second, I felt just a touch of panic. Could I end up in the same situation as the author? Not wanting to allow people in my house. Not being willing to have maintenance people in to fix malfunctioning plumbing or to paint or repair windows.

Third, I felt anxiety. I couldn’t help it, sometimes it just twisted off the page and wrapped itself around me. The tremendous anxiety that Mr. Yourgrau felt while trying to sort out his life was palpable. As a somewhat anxious person myself, I could identify with this feeling very strongly.

Fourth, I felt relief. I was happy for him that he managed to get his life under his own control again, that he was comfortable to have people in, and that he was enjoying his surroundings. Plus, I went to my paper nightmare and proceeded to purge, sort, and file like a boss and felt some relief of my own.

I find it interesting that many creative people have problems with “stuff.” I don’t consider myself to be in the creative category, but one of my sisters definitely is and her clutter problem is somewhat worse than mine. Just as for Mr. Yourgrau, she feels an emotional attachment to every article of detritus in her home and finds it wrenching to let go. Although she does not feel the need to destroy things, as he does, so that no one else will ever be able to use them.

On a final note, if I ever end up with a landlord again, I am going to steal his nickname for his: The Bubonic Weasel.

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