Not long ago, I realized I was no longer paying attention to kitchens. There was a time when all I did was pay attention to kitchens, everywhere I went. (I have talked about my kitchen reno here and here.) I’m sure that for anyone who was not obsessed with kitchens, I was a very dull companion. We could be in someone’s house, and I’d say, “Look at those recessed-panel cabinet doors! I wonder how that would look in our kitchen?” Please don’t worry if you don’t know what I mean by “recessed-panel cabinet doors.” In fact, you should worry if you DO know what I mean. You may need an intervention. But only if you do what I did, and sit in a restaurant, going, “Wow, look at that 9-foot Garland stove! Those burners go to 40k btu’s, and the broiler can send smoke signals to Antarctica! I wonder if we need a reinforced floor for that?” Or, where my husband finally couldn’t take it anymore, at the movie theatre: We would be watching a movie, and I would say, “Look at that unfitted kitchen! (in The Hours) but it would never work in a house like ours.” Or, “Look at those white farmhouse-style cabinets (in Something’s Gotta Give) and soapstone countertops!”

“Honey, what do you think of the movie?” my husband asked, afterward.

“Fabulous kitchen,” I said. To be fair, the Something’s Gotta Give kitchen is legendary among the kitchen-obsessed; Google it, and you will get more than 35,000 hits. Luckily, I stopped talking this way after we finished our remodel. Well, within a few months after, I swear. Now, a couple of years out, I have completely stopped noticing kitchen design. In fact, I have sworn off home renovation completely for the foreseeable future. There is a good reason for that: If we were to renovate another room, I’d have to clean it first.

Because now that I no longer notice kitchens, I am free to pay attention to clutter.

Why, I wonder, when I’m in someone else’s house, are there no piles of unsorted papers on every available surface? No stack of mail? No piles of catalogs, newspapers, magazines? No shoebox full of mini-conditioner bottles from hotel stays (show me someone who uses that much conditioner, and I will show you someone with Willy Wonka hair)? No mass of graded school work? No blizzard of instructions for Lego projects? No large shopping bag full of…other shopping bags…?

I may have a beautifully remodeled kitchen, but my house looks like we just emptied the closets in several rooms and didn’t know where to put anything. The problem is, if you open the closets, you will see that this isn’t true, because they are still full of stuff. I don’t know what they’re full of. I try never to look. When I need something, I open the closet door, reach in, grab the item, and shut the door without actually looking inside. I do this on purpose, obviously. Because if I actually looked inside my closet, I might be tempted to clean it out. But if I were tempted to clean it out, I would probably say to myself, ‘you know, before I clean out this closet, I should really clean off the desk, because after all, that’s in a place where everyone can see it.’ With any luck, by the time I am on my way to clean off the desk, something will interrupt me, and I will never get to it.

I am convinced that it’s only a matter of time before a well-meaning neighbor sends an anonymous letter recommending us for the television show about hoarders. And, by the way, you’re right, that’s why we never have anyone over. You might finally realize how crazy we are.

The only room that has not one single pile of paper in it anywhere is the living room. That’s because we never go in there. Where is the living room, again? Do any people with children go into their living rooms? I think this would make a good coffee table book: The Grown-Up Room (that’s what we used to call it). Dibs on that book idea, okay? Interestingly, I noticed that at a recent gathering at our house (yes, we do sometimes entertain), all of the adults were sitting in the cluttered play room chatting. The children were not there. I finally found the children, sprawled on the pristine living room carpet, playing Bananagrams.

“Why aren’t you in the play room,” I asked?

“It’s too noisy in there with everyone talking,” I was told. “And there’s no room for Bananagrams with all the Legos on the floor.”

But I was wrong about the living room, because now that I’ve located it, I see that there is a long-forgotten book shelf there where we keep old reference books we will never use and long-outdated travel books (Yugoslavia! West Germany!). I’m not sure that qualifies as clutter or merely egregious misuse of shelf space.

It gets to the point where, if I really look hard at my house, there is a place in every room where I’d like to sweep everything into a garbage bag, put the bag out in the garage and see how long it takes before anyone notices that something is missing. What if I did that? What would be lost? We would probably never know.

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