Last updated: Mar 02, 2016


I'll admit it: Im a clutterphobe, especially since I started working from home a few years ago. It doesnt take much stuff—say, unpaid bills scattered across my desk or stacks of library books to be returned—to distract me to the point of paralysis.


Theres a reason junk around the house pushes our buttons, according to Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, author of The Well-Ordered Home. “Clutter is a constant reminder of all the things we havent gotten a chance to take care of,” she says. And being faced with a 3-D to-do list (pay the bills! go to the library!) sends stress levels skyrocketing—a feeling I know only too well. So, to stay calm and focused, I compulsively organize and downsize.

Only problem is, this seems all but impossible between Black Friday and New Years Day. Even if I can resist buying an animatronic singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer doll or a set of mugs depicting ethnically diverse Santa Clauses from around the world, there are always certain family members who believe such items are vital for my holiday enjoyment.

Fortunately, I married a fellow clutterphobe. My husband and I regularly donate items such as outgrown clothing and used appliances. But we ramp up our efforts during and after the holidays. Finding eager takers is easier than ever since we joined our local Freecycle Network. Every castoff finds a happy home. (Yes, even that creepy caroling reindeer.)

Of course, scaling back only works if everyone is on board. Our 6-year-old has agreed to give away his old puzzles and games, but only to “make way for more stuff!” Hes forgotten what happened last holiday when he got catatonically overwhelmed by a mountainous haul from relatives, ignored all the beep-boop-beeping electronic toys, and spent hours contentedly turning a cardboard box into a space shuttle.

With this in mind, I asked my husband if he thought we could put gift-giving restrictions on the grandparents (aka, Santa quadrupled). He said, “Youre asking me if its OK to cancel Christmas?” Im already known as a bah-humbugging buzzkill for insisting on clearing away wrapping paper in between rounds of gift-opening every Christmas. Putting a moratorium on gifts would earn me a lifetime spot on the Naughty List.

So whats a compromise? “Ask for experiences rather than things,” suggests Katherine Anderson, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. “Tickets to performances and sporting events are great, as are gift certificates for a dinner out or a service such as a massage.”

That sounds like the perfect solution. Yet, I must admit that such gifts cant rival the great joy of opening up a prettily wrapped box that contains the perfect present, such as the cashmere sweater my mother surprised me with last Christmas after Id considered it too luxurious to buy for myself. That same year, my mother also gave me a bunch of deformed ornaments Id made in kindergarten. Theyre worthless, of course. And priceless—the sentimental kind of junk not even a clutterphobe like me has the heart to throw out.