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Not for Packrats Only.

What's on top of your refrigerator? (And how long has it been there?) How many appliances do you have that don't work? (And why are you keeping them?) Have you ever ordered anything from the 6,452 mail-order catalogs you are saving?

How we accumulate the stuff we don't need, why we hang onto it, and what to do about getting rid of the clutter is examined with wit and humor by Don Aslett in his latest book, Not For Packrats Only (a Plume book of 215 pages at $9.95). You won't read very far before agreeing with Aslett's singular claim to being a janitor extraordinaire and America's No. 1 cleaning expert.

To emphasize our country's kinship with stuff, Aslett writes of a junk contest held in Phoenix, Arizona, that was won by a couple who for years had hung onto a goat brassiere. (Seems that after a goat gives birth, her udder expands and drags on the ground--unless the owner has enough compassion to ft her with a bra.)

Goat or no goat, rich or poor, living in a mansion or bungalow, with 12 kids or none, clutter--according to the author's painstaking research--is the ultimate household problem.

Thoughtfully, Aslett doesn't leave us holding the (trash) bag. After laying bare our weakness for the accumulation of crud, he tells us how to get rid of it. "Lowering your clutter count," as he phrases it.

Among the statements he has collected from intelligent, well-educated, successful people ("like you and me," he says) are these:

"My mother saved everything. My father died ten years ago, and I'm sure he's in the bottom of the freezer."

"A faded note in the bottom of a 40-year-old package she'd been saving identified the unrecognizable contents as a piece of her 16th-birthday cake."

"My first husband saved rubber bands from the morning paper. That's 360 dried-up rubber bands a year. Our marriage didn't stretch any farther than they did."

Aslett offers several reasons whey people accumulate so much junk:

1. We have space to fill.

2. If things make us happy, the more things we have, the ahppier we will be.

3. We look for more and better things so that we will seem more impressive.

Among the places to fill are purses, wallets, handbags, and briefcases. We fill them with everything from our old high-school lunch ticket with two punches left on it, to the world's largest collection of credit cards--1,098, in one case. And a briefcase remains brief only for the first few weeks. After that, thanks to a dull disposable razor, crumbs, staples, and expired Frequent Flyer cards, it becomes a portable filing cabinet.

In-house depositories include jewelry boxes, where you get stabbed every time you paw through the mess of plastic rings and pins and snarls of shell-and-nut necklaces, gifts from the kids over th years. There's also the junk drawer, where that dried-up package of glue is a goner and where the worn faucet parts have been interred because they were no good where they were before. Then there are the scrap heaps--from Christmas paper and 4-inch-wide rug remnants (red carpet for a Barbie doll wedding?) to odd pieces of Formica and almost-empty cans of roof paint And finally there are clothes closets, with liners to long-gone coats, single gloves, tap shoes, beat-up pocketbooks, and men's underwear with hearts, cupids, or reindeer on them.

How do we know when it's time to dejunk? When, the author suggests:

* You can't carry your handbag more than a block without shifting arms.

* Your child's history class chooses your closet for their field trip.

* You still have a jar of Gerber's strained carrots and your youngest is 9.

* You have to make a path for the meter reader.

* You are discussing building a bigger house ad the children are all gone.

* You know all the people in the first five yards of the flea market line.

Facing up to the truism "When all is said and done, more is said than done," Aslett compares the dejunker with the hunter. They both arrive at the site determined to bag something, but when confronted by an intended victim, they come down with something called buck fever--or junk fever, in this case. And the quarry gallops back into the closet or under the stairs or behind the furnace.

In revealing his secret for sucessful dejunking, the author resorts to verse:

Junk is a trial, by the mile!

And even by the yard, it's hard!

But by the inch, it's a cinch!

Reduced to prose, he advises us not to tackle too many different kinds of things at once. Clutter got there in bits and snatches, so what could be more logical than getting it out the same way?

Not for Packrats Only exposes all those invalid reasons for keeping things: "I might need ti someday"; "It might get me through hard times"; "But I paid good money for it"; "I'm going to fix it one of these days"; "But they don't make them like this anymore"; "But these are memories." Here you'll find advise on selling junk, on giving it away, on hauling it away, on how to ditch the big stuff, on how to keep the keepables (storage). There's a warning about the Junk Bunkers, and finally a chapter called "Staying on the Wagon"--on how to keep yourself uncluttered.

As for the old standby "I'm saving it for later," Aslett claims that this is the saddest excuse going. "Why hobble through a second-rate life with your first-rate stuff stashed away?" he asks. "Do you think your great-graddaughter (yet to be born) is going to appreciate that good silver or good crystal or good jewelry more than you will?"

We would reveal more of Don Aslett's sweet-and-sour work, but if you want to laugh all the way to the city dump, you'll have to read Not For Packrats Only for yourself. You'll find it a lot of good "clean" fun mixed with a lot of good common sense.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:Diet for a longer life.
Next Article:"Scarlett" fever is back!

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