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Help for the hoardaholics

“Karl, have you seen those new books that arrived the other day?”

Kathy orders a lot of books.

She reads her books and attaches different colored tabs to pages to remind her to reread those pages. Red means reread immediately; orange is reread soon; yellow means return within the month, and so on, all the way to the cool side of the spectrum, with ultramarine blue signifying a need to reread the passage some time before she dies.

“Which books are you talking about, honey?” (Advice to newlywed guys: I use “honey” as part of my cleverly constructed domestic armor. “Honey” mitigates lots of things. So does “sweetie.” Use them, young fellows — liberally. Save “darling” for special occasions. Be very careful with “my pet.” Unless you regularly wear a silk smoking jacket and an ascot, avoid “my precious dove” entirely.)

“I bought a couple new feng shui books because there are rooms I want to redecorate, and I got a couple more books on how to deal with clutter in the home. I can’t find them.”

Oh, really? Is there a chance that’s because they’re buried beneath a pile of … CLUTTER?

This thought joins a thousand others that remain unspoken. (Newlywed guys — take note: Unspoken).

At Kathy’s urging, I join the search.

“Check the dining room table,” says my bride.

I check the table. Or, what I guess is the table.

It looks like a scale model of the Siberia With a View landfill. Every square inch of the surface is covered with debris. And not just one layer of debris: layer upon layer — stacks of paper, pieces of different sizes, gauge and color which, in the hands of a practiced archaeologist, would tell a fascinating story of a civilization, now lost, that once inhabited the area.

“Nothing here, honey. At least as far as I can tell without taking a core sample.”

“Well, check the bedroom, maybe they’re in there.”

Sure. In one of the teetering piles of crap stacked on the floor. Or, maybe, they’re part of the lasagne-like melange of detritus atop what I assume are the dressers.

And so it goes: Everywhere the search leads, a mound of paper and books and scraps of who-knows-what presents itself. It’s daunting … and sad.

The garage?

Don’t bother. There are boxes of stuff in the garage we brought from Denver when we moved here more than 26 years ago. The boxes are labeled: “Knickknacks,” “Library,” Mementos,” “Miscellaneous.”

In reality, it’s all miscellaneous. Neither of us remembers what is in the boxes.

And neither of us cares to open them and resume a relationship with the goods. After all, we’ve got plenty right out (for the most part) in the open.

Clutter.

And, if we could just find those darned books Kathy ordered recently — or any of the other dozen or so she’s ordered over the past few years — we might be able to begin to deal with the clutter as well as with the profound psychological and cultural problems that cause us to create and tolerate this incredible pile of junk.

That’s right: the problems.

“Hi, we’re Karl and Kathy. We’re hoardaholics.”

Sound familiar?

Go ahead, admit it: Many, if not most of you, are fellow hoarders.  We’re not unusual, after all they make televisions shows about us now. We’re hoardaholics.

Just because you’re not attending hoardaholics meetings on a regular basis doesn’t mean you are immune from recognizing the problem. And, if you say you are not a hoarder, or have never been prone to collect useless crap you are either 1) a liar or, 2) an anal retentive personality who is not a whole lot of fun in the first place.

We are defined by clutter. In this self-indulgent and wasteful society of ours, clutter is the wake given off by the great ship of consumerism. We buy, we keep, we clutter.

And, when we come to our senses, if only temporarily, we deal with the mess.

Once we find the book that tells us how.

Finally … paydirt! I go down to Level 8 in the stack of periodicals, mail flyers and other meaningless documents sitting ill-ordered atop an end table and there it is — Kathy’s newest book on how to deal with clutter.

This one boldly claims we can reclaim our space and, thus, reclaim our lives.

Never a bad idea: reclaiming one’s life.

According to the authors, Peter and Shaun — a couple of confident and very tidy looking fellows — there is a system to all this. They use their own dwelling (apparently they are “roommates”) as an example of the miracles that can be wrought.

First off is a quiz, to determine whether or not the reader needs help. We skip the quiz.

Second is an assessment of the situation. How bad is it on a scale of 1 to 10? No need to spend a lot of time here either.

Next is the sorting process. The guys urge us to separate the home into different zones, to prepare ourselves for the separation process and to lessen our anxiety by imagining the perfect rooms (or zones).

To determine which items in a zone will be jettisoned, we are urged to ask ourselves questions like: Do we love a particular item? Have we used a particular item in the past several months? Is the item honored or respected? Is the item dust-free? (It takes a bit of time to read this question after a huge dust bunny falls off a countertop onto the page). Does the clothing fit? Is there space for the item?

Well, of course, the answer to every question, with respect to 99 percent of the clutter, is “no.”

One of the tips for discarding clutter, besides putting it in the back of the truck and taking it to the dump or the thrift store, is to give it away or sell it. We mention the notion of giving away useless items to our daughter, Ivy, and she changes her telephone number. Kathy seizes on the idea of sales, Friedmanesque free market fanatic that she is, and determines to set up a video/computer center in a basement room in order to go into the eBay biz. As soon as the clutter is removed from the basement room, that is.

Yard sales? You bet. A great way to pass your useless junk on to other hoardaholics.

Peter and Shaun suggest we make the sorting process “fun.” The guys suggest “a dress-up day” and that we “blow up balloons and decorate the particular area you are attacking.” Kathy makes a list of “fun” things; her list begins with “Bake cupcakes.”

The reordering process is not simple, or easy, and Peter and Shaun mandate a complete makeover of the abode once the debris is cleared: repainting, new furniture (Kathy likes this one) neat-as-a-pin offices and laundry rooms; a sparkly garage; shelves and cabinets that look like they belong in a Shaker meeting hall; mail and bill sorting systems that immediately circulate the paper through a shredder.

What you get is a Zen monastery with some snazzy Crate and Barrel accoutrements.

Looks like a plan!

So … to the sorting.

I suggest Kathy tackle the dining room table, if she can find it.

I will move to the other side of the “primary domestic zone” and work my way through the clutter on and near the couch and ottoman.

Kathy attacks a pile of crud on the table. “Ohhh, look,” she coos. She holds a photo of our granddaughter, Forest It was taken when the tyke was 3 years old — 10 years ago. It’s been buried on the tabletop for who knows how long. Kathy goes into a reverie. The day is lost; she gets up and scurries off to find a photo album into which she can insert Forest’s image. It could take her a week or so to find the album.

As for me, three layers deep in the sedimentary mess on the ottoman I find my copy of “The Professional Chef,” from the Culinary Institute of America. I’ve been looking for the book for at least six months. And it is no small tome, mind you; the darned thing is a large-format hardcover book, at least 3 inches thick. It was concealed beneath a nearly impenetrable mat of AARP bulletins and two-year-old Rodale publications. Oh, look!, there’s a notice from the State of Colorado: something about renewing a driver’s license in 2003.

I flip open the massive culinary instruction manual — one of the most complete on the market.

Zounds! Pan-fried halibut with tomato caper sauce.

I’ve often used the CIA recipe as a template, working variations relative to ingredients available.

For instance … halibut.

As you well know, there are very few spots nearby where one can reel in a halibut. This might not be the case for very long, what with global warming rapidly pushing the Pacific coastline to a spot several miles west of Cortez. But, for now, the only place to find halibut is the local market. Got to catch it right off the boat, so to speak. Tilt the package: If a gray-tinted liquid bubbles from beneath somewhat yellow flesh, forget making this dish.

All you need are a couple halibut fillets. Take the skin off the store-bought hunks of fish and they’ll be fine. The room-temperature fillets get dusted with seasoned flour, dipped in egg wash and rolled in seasoned fresh bread crumbs (make ’em in the processor). The fish is cooked on each side in heated olive oil and butter, over medium high heat, until lightly browned.

Then, into a 350 oven the fish goes until done. It won’t take long. Test one of the fillets, see if it flakes. Don’t overcook.

The sauce is where adjustments must be made.

You need minced garlic, some dry white wine, a tablespoon or so of drained, chopped capers, several anchovy fillets, some fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper and chopped parsley. You also need some finely diced tomato, and here is where things can go south in a heartbeat in Siberia With a View. Tomatoes? Really? Your only safe bet this time of year is to purchase some hothouse tomatoes — the fairly small ones in a plastic dome — or some cherry tomatoes, if they look decent. You need to seed the fruit before dicing it. If you want to appear to be a better cook than you really are, julienne the tomatoes. This is enough to fool friends and neighbors.

The CIA recipe also calls for tomato coulis.

They gotta be kidding! Better just to saute minced shallot in olive oil, throw in some minced garlic for a minute or so, then add an equal amount of diced fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato puree and cook the mix until it begins to take on a bit of a rust color. Add a touch of chicken stock, a splash of red wine, a bit of basil, thyme and a bay leaf and turn the heat to low. Cook slowly for a while until it reaches the consistency you desire, remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. It’ll do.

To make the sauce, heat olive oil over medium heat and toss in smushed garlic and minced anchovy fillets. A minute or so later,  splash in the white wine and reduce until nearly gone. Throw in the capers, the diced (or julienned) tomato and a wad of your facsimile of the coulis. Simmer for a while then add some lemon juice, salt and pepper and a wad o’butter. Take off the heat and, as the butter melts and emulsifies the liquid, toss in some chopped parsley. Pour over the fish.

I think I’m going to need quite a bit of time to reacquaint myself with this CIA book — what with the sections on technique and all the recipes. It’s going to demand a lot of me, and I’m not sure what will be left for the decluttering project,

Obviously, we need help.

Peter and Shaun are probably not willing to travel to Siberia With a View to assist us, busy as they are selecting and purchasing new duvets for their guest room.

As a result, I think we’ll hold a Be Kind to Your Hometown Hoardaholics Day, here at the house. Come spring, we’ll purchase an ad in the newspaper and invite any and all of you to come over and lend a hand. We will match you with the appropriate zone; those of you who are heavy equipment operators will be asked to provide motor-driven, mechanical assistance. We should be able to clear this baby, every zone, in a day — a day and a half at most.

Just in time for the delivery of another shipment of books.

This story was posted on December 27, 2012.