06/27/2012 04:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Secret Junk Room Keeps Me Sane

I have vivid memories of my mother pleading and bargaining with me to clean my room when I was a child. It got worse when I was a teenager. For some reason living with heaps of clothes, vials of makeup, art supplies, and magazines strewn across the carpeting and every surface never seemed to phase me. I just chalked it up to being a disorganized and frenetic "creative-type." It wasn't until I cohabited with others that I began questioning my behavior... and became more than a little embarrassed.

My first roommate after college called me one Saturday when I was away to inform me that our Hoboken apartment had been burglarized. When the policeman arrived at the scene and surveyed my messy bedroom, bureau drawers pulled open and jewelry in tangles on top, he let out a low whistle and said "Wow, they really ransacked this place."

My roommate had to inform him, "No Officer, it ummm...always looks like this."

I like to think my piles may have scared the intruder, because he didn't get away with too much. Needless to say, whenever that story was retold in a room full of hooting friends, I cringed and vowed to make a change.

Now, several years later, my fiancé and I live in an apartment that was advertised as a "one bedroom plus den," the den being a windowless 6' by 10' sliver of a space. We had high hopes for our "little room," as we refer to it, imagining it as a small studio or a place for my fiancé to play his guitar. In actuality, It has become my scapegoat. It is my 60 square feet to pile, chuck, and be in complete disarray... so the rest of our apartment can be clean, livable and presentable. Inside you will find bicycles, half-started crafts, holiday decorations, stacks of magazines and catalogs with tabbed corners that I will read again, and many more items that I can't seem to part with.

As "adults," we are required to keep house, to entertain, have a clear spot on the sofa so friends can sit down, and a neatly-made bed for them to throw their coats. I have accepted this reality and even embraced hostessing. Anyone who knows me would tell you that my organizational skills have vastly improved. (Of course prior to having visitors I feverishly clean, organize and declutter our living space.) As a designer (and adult), I've come to call my style the layered look: I will never be minimal or neat-as-a-pin.

The idea of guests dropping in unannounced still makes me nervous, but I have finally found freedom in knowing I can stash things inside the room and pull its accordion doors tightly closed. My friends are aware of my room, and offer suggestions of better ways to use the space. I politely nod and smile, knowing that I do not intend to give up my hoarding space. But hey, I'm not really a hoarder if it's contained to one little room, right? Anyone?

my secret junk room

My grown-up mess. Photo by Shana Ecker