- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

Political consultants must be giddy. Just as they were running out of research on voter characteristics, along comes a survey that reveals personal politics influence how messy we are.

“Donkeys pile while elephants file,” announced Pendaflex, which makes office products and also sponsors a 100,000-member I Hate to File Club.

“There is a strong link between organizational habits and political affiliation. Republicans have a high likelihood of claiming ‘filer’ status. Democrats account for more than a third of ‘pilers,’ ” the Connecticut-based company noted upon the release of its findings.

Who knew?

Two big political cheeses — Ken Mehlman of the Republican National Committee and Howard Dean of the Democratic National Committee — will no doubt dwell upon this data in their zeal to uncover the makeup of the all-important swing vote.

And imagine CNN’s Wolf Blitzer with final tallies of the November midterms: “The Senate race was won by Republican filers in Ohio even though Democratic pilers dominated Broward County in Florida.”

Yes, of course. Those Republican filers.

According to the Pendaflex survey, they are meticulous, somewhat enigmatic; are organized at home and in the office; are conservative but easygoing; are often in management or scientific fields; and favor tropical island vacations and listening to jazz or rhythm and blues.

The Democratic pilers tend to be intellectuals; consider themselves sophisticated though “somewhat messy” at home and at work; often are lawyers, doctors or accountants; and like to relax in natural surroundings.

Organizational behavior — or the lack of it — looms large in our society, and no wonder. Seventy percent of us live in the proverbial “cluttered home,” where we have accumulated an estimated 3 tons of stuff, junk, paraphernalia, possessions, belongings, bric-a-brac, knickknacks, geegaws, ephemera and whatnot in the attic, closet and garage and on that poor little table near the front door.

And speaking of that table, Americans collectively receive 77 billion pieces of junk mail a year, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

It all spells clutter, a designation that strikes fear in the heart of anyone who ever paid too much for a four-pack of fancy cedarwood hangers at the Container Store.

Clutter: It is a signal for the whole nation to lapse into a chronic schizoid state. (Everyone please wring hands on the count of three.) Oh-h-h-h. Oh-h-h-h. We’re bad people if we have clutter. Our exploding closets are an allegory for our lives. Oh-h-h-h. The sock drawer is all awry. Oh-h-h-h.

Of course, we live in an abundant consumer society, where shopping is both sport and entertainment, and junk just keeps multiplying. Why we hang onto the stuff is what interests therapists, office managers and mothers-in-law eager to administer the white-glove test.

Consider the latest clutter survey. Close to 2,300 people recently answered this question for Bravenet, an Internet provider: “What makes letting go of clutter hard for you?”

Indecisiveness was the biggest reason, cited by 32 percent. Laziness and “It seems wasteful” tied for second, followed by “I just want to keep it all,” confusion, guilt, fear and, finally, “It’s uncomfortable.” Five percent did not know why they couldn’t throw out anything.

Stores, catalogs and books that school us in controlling clutter are aplenty.

“Unclutter your home, unclutter your life,” advises designer Christopher Lowell in his new book, “Seven Layers of Organization,” which advises us to assess and schedule, detach and purge, reclaim and update, and sort and contain, among other things.

Detach and purge. The junky life is dangerous indeed.

“Our insatiable need for ‘things,’ combined with our penchant to hoard, robs quality from our lives,” Mr. Lowell notes.

To add to the confusion, young women pine for the households of the 1950s, when everything was in its place and the title of homemaker was held in high esteem. Though she has a maid, New Yorker writer Caitlin Flanagan has penned the new book “To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewives,” which was reviewed recently by the National Review’s Kate O’Beirne.

“She believes the wistful allure of a well-ordered home fuels the demand for Martha Stewart’s glamorous version of housekeeping,” Mrs. O’Beirne writes, adding that the book is on the vanguard of “the anti-clutter movement, with its own clutter of organizing boxes and baskets.”

Yes, well. We all can go to the Container Store tomorrow and get a whole bunch of cute boxes and baskets and either decide to “save” them or dutifully fill them, only to forget what is in where.

Or we simply can consult the Bible, which sums it up in five words: “Set thine house in order” (Isaiah 38:1).

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and Republican filers for the Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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