Tenured Radical: Deep Cleaning, And Other Cosmic Issues: A Review of “Clutter Busting”

The Tenured Radical has a review up of Brooks Palmer’s book Clutter Busting:  Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back. Here’s a bit of it:

Palmer’s central argument is this: culture producers tell us that we are what we own, and many of us are persuaded that having consumer goods and things of great monetary value makes us happy.  Some of us acquire these things on the street, unable to pass an item that looks useful without stuffing it in the car.   Whatever we acquire, whether it is the magazines that we subscribe to in order to better ourselves, the multiple cats we can’t bear not to bring home from the shelter, or the makeup we buy to look pretty, we become briefly exhilarated as we possess the object, then depressed when we realize that, like all the similar objects our home is filled with, it hasn’t solved anything at all.  The objects then more or less taunt us, and fill our houses in such a way that they overwhelm us.  Worse, they become objects of sentiment, holding feelings that we are unwilling to let go.

Like all successful self-help people, Palmer tells stories about people who, under his guidance, have recovered from this cycle.  Usually the process of recovery involves identifying what role objects of various kinds play in your life, how you are failing to value yourself by allowing them this power, and what they actually have to do with either real people you refuse to let go of or feelings of your own that are undermining you but which you hold dear.  Disabling one’s self by clinging to unwanted objects and people (yes, people, pets and services are clutter too under the right circumstances) is a problem for psychotherapy, but it is also something that is amenable to action.

The power of the commodity in modern society immediately jumped out to me in this review. Self-help books like Palmer’s and TV shows like Clean House are built around helping people manage the power of things. I’m not sure how, yet, but the commodity and the power of the commodity has to be tied up with the idea of the autonomous subject/self. Does the commodity work in the formation of the self–what Foucault called a “technology of the self?” Or does the subject empower the commodity–the object? Not sure.

Oh, and yes, there are all sorts of sacred and religious themes in TR’s review, in the book itself, and in the entire self-help market.


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