Hilarious and poignant, a glimpse into the mind of someone who is both a sufferer from and an investigator of clutter.
Millions of Americans struggle with severe clutter and hoarding. New York writer and bohemian Barry Yourgrau is one of them. Behind the door of his Queens apartment, Yourgrau’s life is, quite literally, chaos. Confronted by his exasperated girlfriend, a globe-trotting food critic, he embarks on a heartfelt, wide-ranging, and too often uproarious project—part Larry David, part Janet Malcolm—to take control of his crammed, disorderly apartment and life, and to explore the wider world of collecting, clutter, and extreme hoarding.
Encounters with a professional declutterer, a Lacanian shrink, and Clutterers Anonymous—not to mention England’s most excessive hoarder—as well as explorations of the bewildering universe of new therapies and brain science, help Yourgrau navigate uncharted territory: clearing shelves, boxes, and bags; throwing out a nostalgic cracked pasta bowl; and sorting through a lifetime of messy relationships. Mess is the story of one man’s efforts to learn to let go, to clean up his space (physical and emotional), and to save his relationship.
In this hilarious memoir, Yourgrau (Wearing Dad's Head) regales readers with tales of his tendency to collect objects and keep them. He recalls a pivotal moment in his life when he refused to allow his girlfriend her arms weighed down by grocery bags into his apartment because of the piles of clutter covering every inch of his place. That evening she issued an ultimatum to him to clean up, and so began his faltering quest to sort through and throw out many of the items scattered around his apartment including 45 cardboard boxes, 22 shopping bags, books and unopened boxes of books, 11 suitcases, and one baby grand piano. Throughout the narrative, Yourgrau examines the history of hoarding and famous hoarders, such as poet W.H. Auden; Homer and Langley Collyer, who were found dead in their Harlem home, one of them buried under "stuff"; and Aldon James, president of the National Arts Club. Along the way Yourgrau attends a Clutterers Anonymous meeting and visits various therapists, seeking assistance in his efforts to de-clutter his life and living space. Eventually, as he explains with wit and honesty, he begins to deal with the clutter, taking comfort that he's not a hoarder but a collector, as he makes space for himself and that girlfriend he shut out five years earlier.