You could not find your keys

You could not find your keys

Once again, you couldn’t find your keys.

You were pretty sure you put them down on the kitchen counter. On top of last weeks’ mail. Which you’d laid next to a shirt you bought on sale in April, breakfast dishes from who-knows-when, five plastic bags, and a dead plant. Yeah, your house is cluttered, but it’s not so bad – which is what Barry Yourgrau thought until, as he says in his memoir “Mess,” he began to look around…

The apartment hadn’t always been his.

It had, in fact, belonged to Barry Yourgrau’s girlfriend once, and she’d bequeathed it to him when she moved and he needed a place to stay. So when Cosima knocked on the door of the apartment one afternoon, she was surprised that Yourgrau wouldn’t let her in.

He couldn’t, because Yourgrau was a hoarder “at wit’s end.”

Postcards, old calendars, paper bags, souvenirs, and bric-a-brac littered the floors of his home, covered with dust, stored in boxes, slung across furniture and countertops. Not only were the rooms cluttered, but so was Yourgrau’s mind: as a writer, he couldn’t seem to stay focused. His home was too much of a distraction.

Cosima gave him an ultimatum: clean or else. So why not make it a “Project”? Yourgrau decided that de-cluttering – and understanding his compulsion to hoard – might make an interesting story, perhaps even a book.

A twin with a younger singleton brother, Yourgrau had spent his childhood helping his family to move; his father was a professor, and had worked his way around to a series of jobs.

Yourgrau remembered his mother’s death with deep sorrow, but recalled his father as “domineering.” Still, getting rid of their “stuff” was an emotional struggle.

But, then again, getting rid of his own possessions wasn’t easy, either. Yourgrau sought counseling. He read up on hoarding and its psychology, attended a twelve-step program, accepted help from several places, spoke with other hoarders and experts, procrastinated, and tried tackling the mess on his own.

Of his struggles, he says, “A man who cannot let go: that would be me.”

There are a lot of pages here in which “Mess” lives up to its title.

That disappointed me; I had such high hopes for this memoir, but a first-half hodgepodge makes author Barry Yourgrau’s story initially very hard to follow. It doesn’t help that Yourgrau sprinkles his narrative with highbrow literary references and other edge-of-mainstream nods; a sense of mania and referring to people by a series of nicknames only adds to the chaos.

Fortunately, things turn around about halfway through the book. There, Yourgrau starts to dig into the reasoning and psychology of hoarding by consulting experts, which tampers the frenzy. Indeed, the second half of this book is more introspective, more down-to-brass-tacks, and much more interesting.

Ultimately, I don’t think this will help much if you need advice on hoarding or cleaning. It’s just too cluttered for that but, if entertainment is your goal, here’s your book. If you can, then, “Mess” is something to find.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@gmail.com.

More in Life

This photo of Frenchy with a freshly killed black bear was taken on the Kenai Peninsula in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 1

The stories were full of high adventure — whaling, mining, polar bear hunting, extensive travel, and the accumulation of wealth

File
Seeing God’s hand in this grand and glorious creation

The same God of creation is the God that made me and you with the same thoughtfulness of design, purpose and intention

Chewy and sweet the macaroons are done in 30 minutes flat. (Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Sophisticated, simplified

When macarons are too complicated, make these delicious, simple macaroons

Michael S. Lockett / capital city weekly
Gigi Monroe welcomes guests to Glitz at Centennial Hall, a major annual drag event celebrated every Pride Month, on June 18.
Packed houses, back to back: GLITZ a roaring success

Sold-out sets and heavy-hitting headliners

Michael Armstrong / Homer News 
Music lovers dance to Nervis Rex at the KBBI Concert on the Lawn on July 28, 2012, at Karen Hornaday Park in Homer.
Concert on the Lawn returns

COTL line up includes The English Bay Band, a group that played in 1980

Marcia and Mary Alice Grainge pose in 1980 with a pair of caribou antlers they found in 1972. The sisters dug the antlers from deep snow and detached them from a dead caribou. (Photo provided by Marcia Grainge King)
Fortune and misfortune on the Kenai — Part 2

In Kasilof, and on Kachemak Bay, in Seldovia and later in Unga, Petersen worked various jobs before being appointed deputy marshal in 1934

“Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement” was published in 2018 by Razorbill and Dutton, imprints of Penguin Random House LLC. (Image via amazon.com)
Off the Shelf: The power of personal voice

“A Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement” provides first-person accounts of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida

Most Read