MESS by Barry Yourgrau


One Man’s Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act
Email this review


A memoir about decluttering an apartment.

This isn’t a how-to book providing a step-by-step program to overcoming clutter, though Yourgrau (Wearing Dad’s Head, 1999, etc.) does chronicle his visit to Clutterers Anonymous, which the author didn’t find particularly helpful except to provide comparisons with those worse off than he is. Mainly, the book is the result of an intervention by the author’s girlfriend, whose success as a food critic contrasts sharply with the author’s self-deprecating lack of achievement. Her intervention inspired his writing project, which is to chronicle his clean-up project, though he discovers along the way that “doing my Project actually gets in the way of my decluttering!” Yourgrau shares histories of famous hoarders, psychological theories about clutter and its relationship with OCD and PTSD, and plenty of family memories, some of which seem to be distorted, about his ambiguous relationship with his late parents, memories that his penchant for clutter helps keep alive. “I hadn’t yet learned how to grieve properly,” he concludes after relating the death of his mother, one of the more moving sections of the book. Yet through much of the narrative, the author seems to be stalling, procrastinating, and distracting himself—all symptoms of the hoarder yet occasionally as frustrating to readers as they must have been to his girlfriend. Not until Page 80 does he announce, “Now for actual cleaning”—though, even then, not much gets cleaned too quickly. As the memoir progresses to the climactic dinner he will host and cook to share the livability of the apartment, where he was previously ashamed to admit visitors, he writes, “It had now been almost two years since my Project began.”

Yourgrau provides engaging company for most of that span, but the actual decluttering in the book might have taken less than a chapter.

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-393-24177-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015


FictionHOMER & LANGLEY by E.L. Doctorow
by E.L. Doctorow
NonfictionJUNK by Alison Stewart
by Alison Stewart
by Matt Paxton