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Clutter: A History

By Jennifer Howard

October 6, 2020


“I’m sitting on the floor in my mother’s house, surrounded by stuff.” So begins Jennifer Howard’s Clutter, an expansive assessment of our relationship to the things that share and shape our lives. Inspired by the painful two-year process of cleaning out her mother’s house in the wake of a devastating physical and emotional collapse, Howard sets her own personal struggle with clutter against a meticulously researched history of just how the developed world came to drown in material goods.

With sharp prose and an eye for telling detail, she connects the dots between the Industrial Revolution, the Sears & Roebuck catalog, and the Container Store, and shines unsparing light on clutter’s darker connections to environmental devastation and hoarding disorder. In a confounding age when Amazon can deliver anything at the click of a mouse and decluttering guru Marie Kondo can become a reality TV star, Howard’s bracing analysis has never been more timely.

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Jennifer Howard is a former contributing editor and columnist for The Washington Post and a former senior reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education. A frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and a contributing writer at EdSurge, she has written for Slate, Bookforum, Fine Books & Collections, and Humanities magazine, among many other publications. Her fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, The Collagist, Blue Moon Review, the collection D.C. Noir, and elsewhere. She lives in Washington, DC.