Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys by Pesi Dinnerstein


Insightful, unsettling, and wildly funny, A Cluttered Life:  Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys (Seal Press) is the story of Pesi Dinnerstein’s quest to create a simple and orderly life—only to discover that simplicity is not so simple and what constitutes clutter is not always perfectly clear.  When a chance encounter with an old acquaintance reveals the extent to which disorder has crept into every corner of her existence, Pesi determines to free herself, once and for all, of the excess baggage she carries with her.  Along the way—with the help of devoted friends, a twelve-step recovery program, and a bit of Kabbalistic wisdom—her battle with chaos is transformed into an unexpected journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.


From the beginning, the reader is told that this book will not be sharing advice of the “Get Organized for the New Year” or “Simple Storage Solutions for Clutter” kind.  Since I read those organizational type magazine and internet articles all the time, I welcomed a different perspective.  Battling clutter, especially in a small house with three children and a husband, is an ongoing, never ending process for me.  So, as Pesi shared her honest and amusing stories from her personal battlefront, I could certainly relate.  And, I could throw in several, “Well, at least I’m not that bad!”

I found reading this story of inner conflict very enjoyable.  There were moments when I wished I could grab a mug of coffee, run off to Brooklyn and join Pesi as she met with “The Holy Sisters”.  This devoted group of friends who shared the same faith and values provided unfailing support and remarkably accurate insights.  May we all be so lucky to have even one friend like this, let alone a whole group as in Pesi’s case!

In the end, I began to realize that Pesi’s struggle wasn’t really about the clutter - in same way as I’ve heard it said over and over about other afflictions and addictions.  Although clutter doesn’t invade my life in the same way as Pesi, there was a common thread worth sharing.  It seems life is a constant battle against whatever we individually need work.  For Pesi, whenever she would have an orderly home, a pipe would literally burst or she would find a way to unravel all her success through self-sabotage.  Pesi ends the story still struggling, yet she did make the important discovery to find strength through her spirituality.  I thought her image of a Florida thrift shop find stuffed goose summed up Pesi’s plight very well.  Bewilda, the goose, had a ruffled appearance and, as Pesi describes, “weary eyes permanently fixed on heaven.”  I can say I’ve had days when I felt like this goose! 

About the Author:
Pesi Dinnerstein (a.k.a. Paulette Plonchak) has written selections for the best-selling series Small Miracles, by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, and has contributed to several textbooks and an anthology of short stories.

Dinnerstein recently retired as a full-time faculty member of the City University of New York, where she taught language skills for close to thirty years. She has been an aspiring author and self-acknowledged clutterer for many years, and has spent the better part of her life trying to get organized and out from under. Despite heroic efforts, she has not yet succeeded; but she continues to push onward, and hopes that her journey will inspire others to keep trying as well.

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