The following interview with Robyn Chausse appeared in Women on Writing
(, January 16,2012):

WOW: There has been a lot of talk lately about hoarders. They seem to be all over the media—especially on the graphic reality shows. What is the difference between hoarding and cluttering—and where do you fit in?

Pesi: Hoarding is a lot more serious than cluttering. It's actually a psychiatric condition that's now regarded as a form of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). The shows we see on television these days usually portray extreme cases of pathological hoarding.

Most of us who struggle with the "stuff" in our lives are basic, garden-variety clutterers, not hoarders. Our time and our space are simply filled with too much, and it begins to feel unmanageable. I would definitely put myself in this category. And while I may have more serious issues with clutter than most, thankfully, I'm still far from the level of hoarding.

WOW: At what point in your clutter-busting project did you realize you had a book in the making?

Pesi: It first began to dawn on me when I tried to clean out the area of my house that I called "the last room." I called it that because I believed it was my final obstacle to an orderly life. In one form or another, some version of this room had existed in every home I'd ever lived in; and, now, it was back to haunt me once again. (I describe the scene in gory detail in Chapter Two of the book.)

It was the place in which I stored everything I owned that defied classification. Whatever didn't fit neatly into one category or another landed in this holding area, where it generally remained untouched until I moved to another home and created the room all over again. It had become a living testament to my chronic procrastination and inability to let go; but now that I was in the throes of clutter-busting, I believed I was finally ready to remove all that excess baggage from my life.

However, once I got started, I found myself unable to part with anything. I was suddenly overcome with a wave of love for all these objects and a personal identification with their plight. They couldn't be easily reduced to a label that gave them permanent residence in this drawer or folder or on that shelf; and, so, they were forced to remain in this no-man's land. Not unlike my own state of affairs.

I soon found myself reuniting with these lost parts of myself; and my anger toward them and what they represented began to change to a feeling of love and compassion. At that moment, I realized that my relationship with the clutter in my life was far more complicated than I had ever imagined—and something I wanted to explore in greater depth. With that, I knew there was a book in me waiting to be written.

The actual book—with all the delays and distractions one would expect from someone writing about a cluttered life—took over a decade to complete. At first, I conceived of it as a loosely woven collection of essays on the subject, but as time went on and I realized how much the issue had come to dominate and define my life, it evolved into a memoir.

WOW: In your book, you mention that the memoir started out as a book about your relationship to clutter, then it became more about your search for a deeper spiritual connection, and in the end it seems to be about the friendships you hold with an amazing group of women. Tell us more about your experience of this transition.

Pesi: I had always suspected that my spiritual journey was being obstructed by my lifelong battle with clutter, but I never realized the extent of it until I started to write the book. As I delved more and more deeply into my issues with the physical world, the focus suddenly began to shift to the spiritual dimension. Instead of wanting to explore my relationship with clutter, I found myself wanting to explore the relationship with God that my clutter seemed to be standing in the way of. In the end, I did a bit of both; but the spiritual piece really became the heart of the book for me.

The biggest surprise, however, was the role that my friendships played. Writing about the very special women who guided me on my path—the Holy Sisters, as I call them in the book—I came to understand just how important their willingness to accompany me on this journey turned out to be.

Living with chronic mess creates shame, and shame can be very isolating. The first step in healing for me was to allow my friends in to see the mess that was lurking beneath my seemingly normal exterior. As a result, not only did my Holy Sisters help me find my way through the clutter, but they also helped me reach a deeper level of trust and intimacy in my relationship with them. And, in the end, that was really what mattered most.

WOW: You've written textbooks, anthologies, and now your memoir A Cluttered Life. What was your experience writing your memoir compared to that of your previous works?

Pesi: None of my previous writing prepared me in any way for the very naked experience of writing a memoir. I had always felt safe in the written word, exploring an interesting topic or searching for just the right turn of phrase. I was able to maintain the comfortable illusion of being in control while I enjoyed the creative process. But when I began to write my own story, I suddenly felt vulnerable and alone. It called for a new level of honesty, and I found that level intimidating and very scary much of the time. I still do, but I try to reach for it anyway.

WOW: Can you share some tips on the publishing experience—how to choose a publisher or pitfalls to look out for?

Pesi: I think most writers these days don't choose publishers; we're just hoping that someone halfway decent will choose us. My agent, Jane Dystel, was really wonderful; and she did a great job of getting my book proposal into the right hands. I was very lucky that the first publisher who was interested turned out to be Seal Press. They're a division of Perseus Books that handles books by women and for women, and everyone there (all women, of course) was a delight to work with. But, to tell you the truth, I would have gladly gone with anyone who wanted to go with me.

The biggest pitfall, I think, is our own sense of hopelessness and despair. After dozens of rejections, it's hard not to become disillusioned, but I tried to think of it as a love affair: You wait and wait and wait for the right person to come along. Sometimes you give up and settle for less than what you really want, and sometimes you hold out for just the right one. But while you're waiting, there's always this exciting possibility that the person you're looking for is just around the corner looking for you. That's how I tried to think of my future publisher—and, sure enough, they did finally turn up one day and fulfill most of my fantasies.

WOW: In a very short time you've gone from being a university instructor with no cell phone to being a published author with a FaceBook page and listings at SheWrites, A Room of Her Own, GoodReads, etc. How have you adjusted to this new lifestyle?

Pesi: Not very well, I'm afraid. I'm still a pen-and-paper girl at heart. I may have a website and be on FaceBook—but that's only because my publisher put me there. The truth is I never look at my page or anyone else's. And whatever readers' and writers' groups I've joined online have received minimal communication from me. Personally, I find the whole thing overwhelming. Maybe I'll get more plugged in one of these days—or maybe not. For now, I'm just grateful that I can respond to your emails without having to call the Apple Hotline for help every day.

WOW: You aren't alone—there are many of us struggling to adjust to all the technology now involved in the writing profession.

Women, and writers, can learn so much from each other. Having crossed over that fifty-year threshold, what words of wisdom would you like to pass on?

Pesi: Never give up on your dreams. I've always been a late bloomer, and most of the miracles in my life have taken place just before the closing bell rang. I believe that every day presents us with new opportunities to grow and recreate ourselves—and to bring more light and kindness into the world. I wake up every morning grateful for another chance to accomplish what I didn't get around to doing in the first half of my life.

WOW: Beautifully said, thank you. So, what's next?

Pesi: Something exciting, I'm sure—and I can't wait till it reveals itself. But, in the meantime, I have a pile of papers to look over and a stack of dirty laundry to be washed . . .

Copyright © 2012 A Cluttered Life