Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/12/2009

What Oprah Doesn’t Understand (or Peter Walsh, or Nate Berkus)

Cluttered desk, cluttered mind?

Cluttered desk, cluttered mind?

Nate Berkus, so cute and loveable. I hate to tell you, but you aren’t, in all circumstances, right about messes. You know the old saw attributed to Einstein, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” How odd that I begin with the kind of quotation I’d mark out if a student began an essay with it.

It was Nate’s buddy Peter Walsh who said, “…clutter robs us of life. It robs us socially, when we’re too embarrassed to have people over. It robs us spiritually, because we can’t be at peace in a cluttered home. And it robs us psychologically, by stealing our ability to feel motivated in our space…” **

Empty desk, empty mind?

Empty desk, empty mind?

I admit my clutter robs me socially. The pedal board of the pipe organ in my living room is leaning against the wall. I moved it to clean the cat mess under it, and I can’t put it back. A friend and I are going to help each other shampoo our carpets (we live in the same building), but we’ve been unable for a month to set a time when we can both do the project because neither of us can keep a calendar straight.

Clutter robs me psychologically? By making me not feel motivated? What if my inability to feel motivated has nothing to do with choice?

Oops. Here come my therapist and my friends who keep me tethered to reality. They are going to tell me I DO HAVE choices. I can seek the help of the higher power I spend so much time with in depth and intensity (if you ask, I may tell you I’m not sure I believe in God). I didn’t say I don’t believe in God. Stop reading speculations into what I write.

Am I motivated? This is the 24th day in a row I’ve posted. That’s motivation. I don’t want to grade student papers, but that has nothing to do with “motivation.” It’s not as much fun as this is (and has nothing to do with hypergraphia). I’m not sure why this writing today is about clutter because it started out being about Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Maud.” Or the Spasmodics (he wasn’t one; but he might have been epileptic or transgendered or something—see the academic literature).

Back to Nate Berkus and motivation. He’s so cute he could motivate me to clean my house. He’d probably have a solution for cat messes, too. Except he’s a dog person. Sorry, Nate, Cleaning my house is not going to motivate me to anything (except fall in love with you, and then you would be sorry).

On the clutter where I live (that towering feeling?)

On the clutter where I live (that towering feeling?)

Shortly after my late partner Jerry and I met, he bought me one of those day planners from the guy who wrote “The Seven Deadly Sins of Highly Effective People,” who plagiarized every spiritual leader since Cassandra and made billions. Jerry showed me how to use it. I still have it. Here on my desk, part of the clutter; it has oodles of phone numbers, email addresses, and passwords that I don’t have anywhere else. The first problem with the damned thing is remembering to carry it.

Then you have to be able to wrap your mind around the concept of organization.

People keep telling me I simply need to do it. I realize this is a cop-out: I probably don’t want to be organized. Having my life on the verge of falling apart at any giving minute (at every given minute) is the way I choose to live. It gives me an excuse not to fully participate in the world around me. My inability to organize myself is not unique. Everyone has trouble organizing, especially us alcoholics. Just pitch in and DO it. DO something. Hire an “organizer.” Anything.

Try this on:  “…they hypothesized that increasing coping skills of patients with epilepsy would result in better self-management and that psychosocial interventions that increase self-efficacy and social support would enhance quality of life. Consistent with this hypothesis, learning coping skills and stress management techniques can be beneficial, whereas believing that one’s health condition was significantly a matter of chance is detrimental to quality of life. The roles of religion or spirituality in improving self-mastery, reducing fear and uncertainty, and coping with stress for patients with epilepsy have not been systematically explored as in other disorders.” ***

I’ve explored the roles of religion and spirituality in improving self-mastery. I’m more religious than anyone you know (even if my concept of “God” remains iffy), and I work a program designed to increase my “spirituality” (I haven’t written about spirituality, but mine begins with the Desert Fathers and goes [up or down, your choice] from there).

I keep returning to what everyone else must think of me (and I think it of myself about 57% of the time): I’m just a lazy bastard who discovered he could use TLE and Bipolar disorder as a cop-out for never doing the menial work of keeping house and sorting out his life. It’s sloth. Character defect. But it started  waaaaaaay before I ever heard of TLE. So many memories of moments of dissociation, of weird deja vu experiences, and hearing that high B-flat, it’s (to me–probably not to you) a wonder I ever learned any “coping skills.” How the hell is a sixth-grader supposed to know he needs to learn that “believing that one’s health condition [is] significantly a matter of chance is detrimental to quality of life” when what he is experiencing is 1) crazy-making; 2) terrifying; 3) impossible to discuss with ANYONE; 4) random at best, and constant at worst?

So Nate, and Peter—and all other “makeover” gurus, leave me out of your scheme to buy lovely modern furniture and get rid of all of our useless memories. Neither you nor Patrick McNamara can figure out a surefire plan for “reducing [my] fear and uncertainty, and coping with stress” in a way that will get me organized. I’m working on it. But waving your magic wand over my writing room is not going to help. This is an inside job I’ve struggled all my life to figure out. It’s a reality between that illusive God of my obsession and me.

I’m sure this doesn’t sound like someone with a “disorder.” It sounds as if I need a Covey’s seminar or a workshop in ending “procrastination,” or some other kind of self-help program. Maybe.

Or maybe,  “The typical pattern in such patients is a cluster of complex partial seizures of mesial temporal lobe origin, followed by affective symptoms together with grandiose and religious delusions as well as simple auditory hallucinations. Psychosis may also occur between seizures (interictally), characterized as delusions and hallucinations with full alertness and ability to concentrate, though disorganized behavior and thought disorders may also occur. Religious ideation occurring in the context of delusions and hallucinations as the manifestations of an interictal psychosis is well described.” ***  How will I ever know? As Rosencrantz says, in my favorite play (it’s about death, you know), “I wouldn’t think about it if I were you; you’ll only get depressed.”

** Interview in O, the Oprah Magazine Online

*** McNamara, Patrick H., editor. The Neurology of Religious Experience:
Where God and Science Meet; How brain and evolutionary studies alter our understanding of  religion.
Westport Connecticut, Praeger Publishers, Greenwood Publishing Group (2006) p. 177.


  1. Oh I so resonated with this!
    I find clutter inspiring.


  2. I love this piece… thanks. I’m an organizer, naturally and professionally… but that’s me. I like it, it motivates me, purging is my inspiration. It’s not your’s and that’s ok. I really really don’t like the “clutter busters” who think that organization can save us of all sins and afflictions. We are all wired differently… keep your clutter if it is the environment from which you write such good posts! BTW, you can find me at


  3. Hello, I found your post when I was looking for articles about fellow antipodean Peter Walsh.

    As a cat owner I hope you can clean your house up so it is a healthy environment for puss.

    As an atheist I hope you can get rid of the religious clutter in your life which seems to be holding you back from inner contentment.


  4. What an interesting article! I am an organizer who grew up in the home of a hoarder. My mother’s hoard seems to bring her a lot of comfort but it drives me nuts! I can’t “fix” anybody & I don’t want to however their is a point when a hoard becomes a danger to the animals & people living in it and they often lose the choice when family or authorities step in. I don’t think this applies to you and your cat. Best of luck.



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