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Let's scratch the itch of early-spring cleaning

The so-called “decluttering” movement has reached a fever pitch, causing citizens to rush themselves into the task of pitching out their stuff.

Getting rid of everything extraneous is probably a good idea. But some exceptions must be made for items that may possibly, in the distant future, have a potential alternative use or could otherwise come in handy. 

Some women, like my wife, are happy to be married during the decluttering purge when she needs a hand with changing a delicate light bulb or dealing with an enormous and scary spider.

I’m not talking about genuine hoarders — people who feel a close personal connection to everything that they have ever owned and feel they can’t let go of anything. If you were to show them a tiny pencil stub that’s missing its eraser, they might say something such as, “I’d better hang onto that! I could need it someday when I write up a list of the things that I’m going to throw out.” 

These are also the sort of people whose clutter can be seen from outer space.

However, there can be a fine line between hanging onto things that could be useful in the future and being a hoarder. Take a quick tour of the interior of your house. If you can’t get from room to room without climbing over mountains of stuff, you may have a problem. 

On the other hand, if a survey of your household reveals numerous items that aren’t serving any purpose at the moment but might be of use at some indefinable point in the future, you and I think alike. It’s been posited that people who have a cluttered workspace are more creative. If that’s the case, I should be the Rembrandt of creativity.

Clutter has a way of pleasantly surprising its owner. “Oh!” you may exclaim as you dig through a stack of papers and discover a long-lost fishing license, “I knew this was around here somewhere! Maybe my tackle box is at the bottom of this pile.”

My wife and I are disadvantaged when it comes to the war on clutter. Our parents grew up in the 1930s and afflicted us with their Great Depression values. We were taught from a young age to make do, fix it up, get by. And for heaven’s sake, don’t toss out anything that might be remotely useful! This included empty bread sacks that we used as liners for our leaky overshoes.
Our parents could squeeze a nickel so hard that you could hear the buffalo bellow. You need to be of a certain age to appreciate that accomplishment.
When I was a kid, my dad had a galvanized half-bushel basket that was kept in the cluttered old single-car garage that passed for our farm shop. The basket held a random hodgepodge of nuts, bolts, and other oddities. My dad had purchased the basket and its contents at a farm auction for 50 cents.
He and I would rummage through that basket whenever we needed a nut or a bolt. More often than not, the basket would reward our efforts. The nut might be square or have the wrong threads, but at least it saved us money and a trip to the hardware store.
Duane, my stepfather-in-law, was cut from the same cloth as my dad. Once upon a time, Duane acquired a malfunctioning clothes dryer for free. He trundled the thing into his shop and tried to fix it. After numerous dryer repair failures, Duane was forced to admit defeat.
Duane told me about his dryer debacle, then proudly held up a pint jar that contained an assortment of screws. “There was nothing wrong with the screws, so I removed them all before I took the dryer to the scrapyard!” he declared triumphantly. “It took me all afternoon, but a guy never knows when he might need something from this jar.”
Glancing at the jar, I guesstimated that its contents could have been purchased at a hardware store in a matter of minutes for approximately $1.29.

I sometimes think that this decluttering fad is merely another way for our industrial world to impose order on organic untidiness, to enforce rigid, straight-line conformity when what we desire is the comfort of our curlicues. 

Besides, getting rid of stuff often creates the powerful urge to buy more stuff.

Every so often, we — by which I mean my wife — will be bitten by the decluttering bug. “Look at all this useless junk!” she’ll declare as she fills a garbage bag with items that were valuable mere moments ago.
I know exactly what to do at such times.
“I think this light bulb is burned out,” I’ll say. “And I just saw a humungous spider in the bathroom.”

About the Author

Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at

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