As promised, here's part 4 (go click here if you haven't even seen part 1) of my look at Clutterers Anonymous, or CLA for short. Sorry if the details of this aren't "juicy" enough for you, but hey, it was what it was.
Despite some difficulty I managed to find the place and show up right on time. Aside from the two women who seemed to be administering things, I was the first one there. There ended up being about 8 or 9 of us in total.
With the exception of me, everybody else at the meeting appeared to be women in their 50s or 60s. I still have no idea what to make of this, but I sure don't pass it off as coincidence. Maybe there's something about women being more inclined to seek out help via a support group, but I'm still curious about the age similarities. If anybody has some hypotheses, let me know.
We met in a small room of a public building with a huge table, and a long line of file cabinets along the wall. On top of the file cabinets was -- guess what? Tons of clutter. I had to wonder if this was part of the meeting. Was this people's stuff they brought in? Was it for an exercise we'd be doing? Nope. It was just there, and didn't belong to anybody in particular. Something about that seemed tragically ironic for a CLA meeting. But that wasn't the biggest irony.
What was the biggest irony, you may be wondering? The fact that the first thing they did was give me a stack of pamphlets. Friggin' pamphlets! 8 of 'em! Yeah, yeah, I realize that they need some way of getting their information across, but come on. "Hi, welcome to Clutterers Anonymous. Here's a handful of paper for you to take home!"
The meetings start with some individual getting to speak. Being new to this, I volunteered myself, and they accepted. So I introduced myself, and gave a brief rundown of where I am: had a packrat problem for a long time, but I've been getting myself out of it, thanks mainly to a book and also starting a blog, but I still have some ways to go, blah blah blah.
So the meeting then kicked in with the Serenity Prayer. Go figure. So much for not being a religious organization. I went along with it. Whatever. In all seriousness though, I think the opening line of "...accept the things I cannot change" says it all. AA is said to drill in the idea that you are an alcoholic and that there is no cure for it. Maybe something similar is going on here. Something I'll think more about later. We also took turns reading the 12 steps.
We got to pick a pamphlet to take turns reading part of. The choices?
- CLA: A Brief Guide
- Recovery from Cluttering: The 12 Steps of Clutterers Anonymous
- Decluttering Resentment, Steps 4-10
- Declutter Your Mind
- Finding Your Life Purpose
- Home: Our Sacred Place
- Spiritual Timing
I chose #6, because it seemed like the most practical one to read. So we read it. Some pretty good lines, I must admit. As I've said before here (but Don Aslett said better), a lot of this comes down to living the home we want to live in. The problem is not being "too materialistic" though; it's about getting rid of that 80% of your stuff you can do without so that you can find and enjoy the 20% that really adds to your life.
We went on to give small talks. All but one of the attendees ended up talking. In all honesty, I am a good listener. Sure, nobody wants to really hear another person's problems, but we were all there to tell everybody else our own problems, so it was a give-and-take situation. Some statements were short, some long. Some had laughter. One woman cried as she tried to express just how overwhelmed and helpless she felt. One woman went off on a tangent and started talking about some of the stupidest, most irrelevant stuff before finally coming back. But some of them had anecdotes I could really relate to, and when I was talking I saw the nodding heads that let me know that I was sharing stuff they could relate too as well. I did admittedly hear some truly tragic stories that traced back to being a junk hoarder.
Near the end, we got to mention accomplishments, give tips, and set personal goals for next week. The goals could be "something as simple as sewing on a button!" But as one lady I talked to after the meeting said (and I agreed), sewing a button is not making a hell of a lot of progress. Still, I mentioned some of the recent things I did, like how I took the photo of me with my school papers. Another woman talked about how she got a folder and organized a lot of her papers and bills. I had a pretty good suspicion of who was going to significantly conquer their cluttering problem, and who was still going to be stuck in these meetings a year from now, with no progress.
When it was my turn to mention tips, I mentioned the book, Clutter's Last Stand. I praised it. It helped me a lot. I highly recommended it. A lot of the ladies had problems with clothing clutter, and I mentioned how there was an entire chapter on clothing. A bunch of them excitedly copied down the name of the book and the author.
Seemed like I did a good thing, right? Well the coordinator didn't think so. After the meeting, she pulled me aside to explain, in as nicely a way as possible, that what I did was wrong. I wasn't supposed to mention specific sources or authors like that. And if some of the other regulars had been there that week, she said they would have flipped out and shut me up immediately. "Oh," I said, trying to understand, "Is that because it's a solicitation". No, it's because it goes against rule something or other of CLA. I'm still not sure what it was.
And that's what I found the most silly about CLA. Here I was, offering a practical source of help to people who needed it, and they appreciated it. So...what was the problem? They want to you stick to the 12-step program. Apparently, dogma is more important than results.
All in all, I am glad that I went. The attendees were still pretty open and supportive. I may go again. If anything, just to lend some practical help to other people who show up there. Maybe I'll sell stacks of the book to people after the meeting, when they can't bust me.