Do you remember reading of the Maine man who used clutter as a tool to single-handedly clean up his entire town? He lived where a family’s wealth is measured by the number of unlicensed cars in the yard, which is about 15 miles in from Maine’s gilded coast.

His neighbors had the usual acceptable amount of junk in their yards. Not enough to push any official buttons, but enough to disturb his need for order. Knowing better than to generate animosity by suggesting that they clean up their mess, he took clutter to the next level and dragged stuff home from the dump. Week after week, he artistically decorated his yard with old bicycles and bedsprings much as someone in Falmouth would plant expensive flowers or shrubs. An old washing machine here. A comfortable sofa there. A few broken chairs and a dozen or so lawnmowers for parts. Weeds in between.

At last, another man, who wanted to sell his house, realized that his neighbor had pushed basic Maine yard clutter past its accepted bounds, so he circulated a petition which led to an anti-clutter ordinance. The selectmen then came to this man’s house and said that they were sorry but because of a new regulation everyone had to haul their stuff to the dump.

Anyone who has looked in his neighbor’s dooryard knows that one only collects things that might have some monetary value. Citizens develop a keen sense of frugality in a socio-economic system that makes collecting junk necessary for survival.

You can travel over entire countries in much of Northern Europe and not see as much clutter as is found in one front yard in Washington County.

An unbiased observer might assume from this that there are countries in Northern Europe where people have adequate incomes. They have single payer health insurance and they want for naught. In these countries, people have never developed the need to stockpile extra lawnmowers or cars for parts.

Does this not suggest that, although the compulsion to accumulate junk and clutter may be genetic, it is probably driven by an economic force?

There are affluent countries in Europe where it is not necessary to save junk. There are poor countries in Africa where it is impossible to save junk, because your neighbor would steal it.

Do acres of storage lockers indicate that Maine is somewhere in between? Since World War II, hundreds of beautiful Maine barns have been allowed to rot into the ground. They have been replaced by storage lockers, enabling some enterprising Maine folk to earn a good living by storing cherished furniture that showed up when Grampy died.

It’s hard to lose if you own storage lockers. If tenants don’t pay their rent or never come back, the contents of the lockers are sold at auction. More often than not, the person who buys the contents of the locker has to rent the same space as he has no other place to store his new treasures.

You and I have thrifty friends who store everything in the kitchen – if they live alone. A kitchen is a single Maine man’s storage locker.

A kitchen in an old Maine farmhouse is a friendly, all-purpose room. It is where you eat, sleep, entertain and repair any piece of equipment that will fit through the door. Wallpaper and doorframes are notepaper where you scribble reminders. Almost a cord of wood can be stacked in even a small kitchen.

As one who spent many Maine winters alone, I can testify that rebuilding a small engine in the kitchen makes sense. Why would any practical Maine man shovel a path through a 3-foot drift to an uninsulated workshop, where he would have to light another fire, when it is already toasty warm in the kitchen?

For 20 years I slept beside a black wood stove in a soot-covered state of bliss. Then, along came Marsha, The Almost Perfect Woman, who is not only an organizational genius but a compulsive cleaner. The first time she stepped through my kitchen door, she was captivated by the challenge and settled in.

That said, in the years since that blissful day, I have given much thought to people to whom clutter happened, and those, like my wife, who have had clutter thrust upon them.

One of the most memorable lines in 400 or so years of recorded Maine literature is a quote from the old lobster catcher, Perse Seine, who was asked why he was building a skiff in his kitchen. Answering the question with a question – in typical Maine fashion – Perse said, “Well, what’s a kitchen for?”

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html