Mark Sherman: I’m not so bad

Mark-Sherman SQUARE“Getting organized is unquestionably good for both mind and body — reducing risks for falls, helping eliminate germs and making it easier to find things like medicine and exercise gear.”
— Tara Parker-Pope, “A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves,” New York Times, Jan. 1, 2008

The fact that I am starting this piece with a quote from a New York Times article that was published more than six years ago, which, incidentally, I found on my list of bookmarked sites — now numbering well over 100 — shows that I definitely have a clutter problem (including, in this case, computer clutter). I have written about this before, but since I have no good system for keeping track of what I’ve written, I will just have to assume that I’m at least covering some new ground here.

Obviously, I saved that Parker-Pope piece for a reason. Like many clutterers, I seek out all kinds of books and articles to help me deal with my problem, which, of course, simply adds to the clutter. But the great thing about computers is that you can save millions upon millions of words without any physical accumulation. I have often thought that if, suddenly, all the things I have stored on my computer were to become hard copy, I would immediately be buried by it — kind of like my idols, the Collyer brothers, literally were by their clutter in 1947.


But I’ve got a different problem than the Collyer boys. They saved mostly material things — newspapers, books, and all kinds of items both big and small — 140 tons worth, apparently. I do a certain amount of that — you never know when you might need that pair of sneakers you wore before you got your new ones, and listen, you can never have too many flashlights — but mostly I save what I’ve written. Or links to websites I find interesting.

So how bad am I in terms of disorganization and clutter? Fortunately, Parker-Pope mentions a group called the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, which has provided a scale to see where you stand in the hierarchy of the habitually jumbled. It’s called the NSGCD Clutter Hoarding Scale (, and it’s actually intended for organizing professionals. But I can’t see why I, as a lay person, can’t take a look at it to see how I’m doing.

It’s got five levels, and I’ll tell you right now that once you get past Level 1, it is not fun reading. Before you even get to the third level you will probably be feeling a bit nauseous, and, believe me, you don’t want to read the criteria for Level 4, let alone 5.

Level 1 says “Household is considered standard. No special knowledge in working with the Chronically Disorganized is necessary.”

But, hey, I don’t even reach Level 2, where, according to this scale, “Household requires professional organizers or related professionals to have additional knowledge and understanding of Chronic Disorganization.” Some of the criteria for this are “some pet odor, clutter inhibits the use of two or more rooms, tolerable but not pleasant odors, and overflowing garbage cans.” None of this applies to our house.

Now, to be frank, while clutter does not inhibit the use of two or more rooms, what I have in the two rooms in which I do my creative work is not exactly esthetically pleasing. But sometime in the last year or so I read a piece in the New York Times which said, as I recall, that neater people tend to be less creative than those who are not as neat. I’d like to look at it again, but, needless to say, I have no idea where it is.

Some years ago, in spite of not even being close to a world class clutterer, I did hire a professional organizer to help me get rid of some stuff and organize what I held onto. A dear friend of mine wrote a little poem inspired by my efforts. Of course today I couldn’t find it, but I e-mailed her and, fortunately, she is better organized than me and was able to quickly send it. So here it is, with thanks to Lyn B:

“There once was a dear man from Harvard,
whose life was spent as a scrivener.
Instead of living each moment, he wrote in a foment,
every day, every thought, every word.

Then his wife said ‘Cease scrivening, our spaces are shriveling,
you’ve got to get over your urge.’
So he called in an expert, a backhoe and dumpster
and slowly proceeded to purge.

He tossed out his textbooks, his journals, his notebooks
and all kinds of outdated stuff.
But when in a frenzy, he tossed out his wife, she said,
‘Dear, I think that’s enough.’”

There is one comment

  1. Sara Bereika


    I enjoyed reading your article. My name is Sara and I am the Marketing Director for the ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization) formerly known as the NSGCD.

    Thank you for writing about our Clutter-Hoarding Scale. It’s such an important piece for our industry and the more people talk about it the more people will learn what a great resource ICD is.

    We have a great publication that may interest you titled, “The ICD Guide to Challenging Disorganization.” I would like to send you a complimentary copy as a thank you for the mention. However, since we are “clutter conscience” I want to ask first if this is something that would be of interest to you?

    I also have one more question… could you update your article with our new name, ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization) and link it to our website (

    Again, thank you for writing about ICD. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me at

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