This is a letter written years ago, but never sent.
20191020 001059 8 minutes
Dyslexia, Clutterbug, Left-handed, Social Mores, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Dear Abbey
August 12, 2013

Dear Ms. Phillips,

Your “Dear Abbey” answer to “Embarrassed in Pennsylvania” on Sunday, 8/11/13, in the Times Herald Record, finally got under my skin enough for me to write to you, and I wanted to put in my two cents-worth on behalf of the “Martha Stewart Doesn’t Live Here” contingent.

Usually I agree with “Abbey’s” comments. You give commonsense advice for handling tricky social situations. However, this subject has been simmering on the back burner about for a long time and now is getting close to a full boil.

There can be reasons/excuses for behavior which has been misunderstood and mislabeled. I hoped to sow a tiny seed of doubt that the brush with which we have been tarred and feathered should instead have held paint, maybe even pretty paint.

Social mores, which dictate that one’s living space should be akin to an impersonal hotel area, are anathema to me. I feel much more comfortable in a home that is a home, not an aseptic hospital room. The big corporations have done a wonderful job of brainwashing us into believing that we absolutely must spend a fortune on their cleaning products, thus producing a healthy return for their stockholders.

Hollywood, especially in the ‘50s, and the big corporations ensured that as a society we are against people who transgress the belief that “cleanliness is next to Godliness;” and by extension, that anything out of place (clutter,) is somehow dirty and immoral. People are afraid such transgressions may be catching.

Having been brought up in a very beautiful house where the dust wasn’t allowed to land, (it had to be caught on the way down,) and where the whole house was cleaned from top to bottom every day, I do know how a house should be kept. But I also know the other side of that coin: the house can become a god in itself, to the detriment of the family members who have to pray at the same altar.

It’s not that I am against appropriate living conditions, but the super-concern about keeping children in an aseptic environment is unhealthy in itself. I believe in having a strong immune system, which is impossible if kids aren’t allowed to get dirty, or exposed to anything. When we were young my brother and I swam in the river. He once commented that we were probably immune to everything, knowing what was in the river.

Society is now so fanatic about clean and tidy, and uncluttered, that homes can become impersonal prisons. As to the current mania for “less is more,” I was an accountant by profession and know very well that less is less, and more is more.

As when Richard II commented to Bolingbroke: “Lions make Leopards tame,” (referring to their respective coats of arms,) and Bolingbroke replied “Aye, but not change their spots,” perhaps brains are wired differently and some people simply cannot conform. The leopard’s spots don’t disappear when it is tamed.

Perhaps, as in the past, homosexuality was considered a sickness whereas now we understand that one is born either hetero- or homosexual; and similarly, we forced lefties to write with the right hand and had no understanding of dyslexia or why apparently intelligent children had trouble in school but thought they were just being difficult; so maybe one is born either a neatnik or a clutterbug, with varying degrees in between, and it isn’t a sickness after all but a character trait that one is born with. Although a thin veneer can be melded over the problem, and someone can be prevailed on to tidy the area, it is usually only a temporary fix.

The trend to marginalize clutter-bugs is very hurtful. Untidy people have been the butt of unkind jokes for years – think of the absent minded professor and his cluttered office, overflowing with papers and books. Programs like Hoarders and responses like “Abby’s” portray people who are less than perfect as “bad” people, or at the very least afflicted with a “psychological disorder.”

Anything I dispose of I will never be able to replace, thanks to a negligent architect whereby 30 years of savings flew out of the window. If I haven’t used something for a year or more is no guarantee that I won’t need it again: my crewel embroidery has been on the back burner for years, but I do expect to finish the fire-screen one of these days. My daughter will be very surprised when she opens it some Christmas day.

My remaining income, (social security and a little bit more,) barely covers my monthly expenses, not including food. There is certainly not enough to replace things I have previously disposed of. For food, I buy produce in season, not when I immediately need it, and preserve or freeze it to keep costs down. I haven’t bought meat or fish for years, and almost never eat out or buy processed food.

Luckily my two little spaniels still love me, as long as I feed, water, groom and walk them appropriately, and allow them to snuggle up in the winter when it’s cold outside. But they’re not much help in tidying the place.

Usually, little is written from this point of view. Thank you for your indulgence.