This Just In: Magazine Editor Taken to the Woodshed by Angry Readers

Occasionally I’ll write something in my editor’s note for the Real Simple monthly issue that makes readers mad. Sometimes they think I’m frivolous and sometimes they think I’m a horrible person and sometimes it’s somewhere in between.

Well, I’ve done it again, and this time it’s more on the horrible person end of the spectrum. In the June issue I wrote about ordering a Dumpster and throwing out lots of the dusty rubble that seemed to make up most of my basement, particularly after our renovation last year. It was a liberating act, and I said so in my letter.

A number of readers who are either mildly disappointed or genuinely angry have taken me to task for not trying to donate the things I threw away.

Now, when I read the letters, do I feel a twinge of guilt? Definitely. Were there things I threw out that, with more effort, organization and thought, I could have either repurposed or somehow given away? I suppose—hence the guilt. (Although the thought of trying to give away mice-infested snow boots just seems tacky, unhealthy, and maybe insane.) I honestly did not regard cleaning out my basement as an environmental act, as perhaps I should have; I just wanted to get all of the crap out of my basement. I have also frequently donated to my local Salvation Army and have seen the mountains of stuff in the lobby and warehouse; the stuff I was throwing away did not pass donation muster, at least not in my book.

The most distressing part of the reaction (and we’re talking a handful of letters here, not hundreds) is that some readers are assuming that both I and Real Simple do not promote environmentally friendly living, which is not true, even if it may have looked that way in this editor’s letter. To those readers I apologize, and urge they not judge the magazine by what they read in one letter from me. (But honestly, I do wish I’d taken photos.)

Now the condemnation of my Dumpster moment has taken on a mini life in a couple of blogs, as you can see: I Suwannee and Decorno. One commenter even called me a “socialite”!

When I started this blog, the staff of RealSimple.com warned me that the blogosphere is a mean, name-calling place, and not for sissies. I have to tell you that my experience in writing Adventures in Chaos has been refreshingly vitriol-free. While I do get a little laugh in being called a socialite, let’s just say I’m glad it doesn’t happen every day.

Comments

Kristin,
I understand your sensitivity to other’s comments – but I think it’s only fair to recognize that there are times in our lives when we really just need to be RID of things and de-clutter. AND, I know when I am cleaning and making my Goodwill pile- things need to be in decent shape or I am not dropping it off. While I am all for recycling, reusing and keeping the world as good a place as we can – it’s offensive to see people dropping off garbage at these types of places.
Posted by: Anna| June 03, 2008 at 11:31 AM

I have to admit that, at first, I was suprised to read your letter. It certainly didn’t send me into fits of rage. Though I usually try to recycle or donate everything we get rid of, I can also understand how you can actually buckle under the pressure of trying to “responsibly” ditch your stuff. Sometimes it’s not even worth it and the dumpster just makes sense.I’m sure you were thrilled to finally be rid of the clutter in such a big way, not to deprive the poor of your mouse-eaten boots. Don’t sweat it. In fact, isn’t there actually a new type of anxiety caused from trying to go green? (I may have read about it in Real Simple). No one is perfect!
Posted by: Andrea| June 03, 2008 at 11:34 AM

I’ve subcribed to your magazine since the beginning and read your editors letters faithfully, and I didn’t think twice when I read the one in the June issue. You just sounded normal to me. Most people I know could probably stand to do the same thing you did. Don’t we all try to donate when possible?
Posted by: Kristen| June 03, 2008 at 11:36 AM

Welcome to the blogosphere Kristin. Erin and I know, and feel, your pain. Through various blog posts and/or podcast reviews we’ve been called clueless, annoying, ignorant…. you name it. I find it’s important to try to focus on the positive comments, as well as the negative, even though it’s the negative ones we tend to dwell on the most.And congratulations on cleaning out your basement. I’m jealous.
Posted by: Kristin – Manic Mommies| June 03, 2008 at 12:00 PM

I did read your letter when I received my issue (see people really do read the editor’s letter). I remember briefly thinking something along the same line…in that it was kind of irresponsible…a bit of a turn off. But I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Would it have been better if you threw out the stuff in hundreds of plastic bags instead? No! The dumpster is better in that regard. Should you have donated what you could? Yes. But no one else wants or needs our true crap. If it isn’t usuable then someone else is just going to through it away. There is no neat solution to the amount of waste we ALL generate.
Posted by: BettyBetty| June 03, 2008 at 12:10 PM

In the spirit of being in the “blogosphere” I have one thing to say to your haters- GET A LIFE!!!! I have repeated your comments about the dumpster at several recent BBQ’s I have attended. There was a collective acknowledegement by the females in attendance of what it would feel like to “dumpster” for a weekend- almost better than ***!! Having my own personal dumpster ranks right up there with my fantasy of meeting George Clooney- he’s free now ya know…….
Posted by: jenniejennie8675309| June 03, 2008 at 01:21 PM

Good for you in realizing that not every piece of junk is someone else’s treasure! There are some things that really do belong in a dumpster! Your letter actually motivated me to get back down in the basement and keep working! Thanks for being a “real person” like the rest of us.
Posted by: Kate| June 03, 2008 at 01:39 PM

I’m going to echo what others have said here and tell you…don’t sweat it!!! I consider myself to be pretty environmentally aware, but I found no offense in what you wrote whatsoever. We have the ability to pick apart and find offense in nearly everything that gets published or done or whatever…and people will choose to make examples out of you or whomever else they designate at the drop of a hat. Yeah, the blogosphere is pretty tough (have you read dooce.com?) but take the opinions of others with a grain of salt. You in no way strike me as a person who decluttered her basement with malicious intent…quite the opposite! Sometimes you just gotta purge! :)
Posted by: Shannon| June 03, 2008 at 01:45 PM

As the director of a non-profit, I have been the recipient of countless numbers of boxes and bags full of items that should have been trashed, but weren’t because their owner either felt guilty or was sure someone could use their old junk. We’ve received numerous equivalents to mice-infested boots and I honestly feel a bit insulted that people give us things in that condition. We’re thankful that they thought of us and the needs we may have, but trash is what it is – trash. Many things can be repurposed or donated, but it only creates more work, and frustration, for the recipient when donations aren’t usable or in good condition. Dumpsters have their place in this world!!
Posted by: Julie| June 03, 2008 at 01:54 PM

I just read the article and some of the comments on I Suwannee and all I have to say is I think its ridiculous. I mean seriously do these people have nothing better to do than play virtual recycling police? You were cleaning out your basement for crying out loud, not throwing away perfectly good canned food that starving children could eat. Im going to go out on a limb and say the stuff you threw away was for the most part junk. Old. Broken. Worn out. Don’t donation centers have a big long disclaimer about how they only take “new and gently used clothing, working appliances, etc?” From my experience trying to donate, they are very picky. And I know exactly what you mean about feeling good about it. Simplifying. Cleansing. I wish my mother would do the same thing to her garage. Though heaven forbid she throw out those old dog rugs. Goodwill may be able to sew them back together and clean off all the mildew..
Posted by: Carlea| June 03, 2008 at 04:07 PM

You’re living in a fish bowl, Kristin! And although I don’t agree with everything that you’ve written, I do find it all so very interesting. I would love to swap places with you for just one day, especially now that you are a socialite! Keep doing what you’re doing! My mother always said that you can please all of the people all of the time so make sure that you please yourself – or something close to it! Thanks for sharing!
Posted by: Chris| June 03, 2008 at 04:12 PM

Listen, don’t feel guilt or feel like you own anyone an apology. Sometimes, it easier to just GET RID OF IT. I work at a Salvation Army and I have been a member for quite sometime myself but sometimes when I need to clean out the basement I tend just to toss everything that I see instead of taking the time to drive it to the local thrift store. We all do it, no one should criticize you or call you a socialite because you didn’t have the time… I am a dedicated reader of your blog and a dedicated subscriber!
Posted by: R. Parker| June 03, 2008 at 04:26 PM

ah, getting burned in the blogosphere. I think this means you’ve officially made it! JK. People can be mean when it’s all anonymous. A “friend” just broke up with me by blocking me from all her social networks! Duh.Anyway, I think the only way the world will get greener is if we all take reasonable steps towards environmental-friendliness. If we are all expected to be perfect, it will be too daunting.Don’t worry about it.
Posted by: Caroline| June 03, 2008 at 04:50 PM

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of feeling guilty when I’m not perfect. I wish all the women of the world could get together, take all of our dusty guilt, and throw it in the dumpster!
Posted by: Louise| June 03, 2008 at 06:13 PM

My grandmother used to say that some people wouldn’t be happy working in a pie factory. I think that applies to those who got so upset with you for your dumpster rental. Maybe they were having a bad day. Since we had a dumpster in our driveway the same weekend, I am especially supportive of your efforts! We too had junk that was not good enough for Goodwill. We recycle when we can but sometimes you just need to get rid of things. Since we have picky trashmen and a lot of stuff, a dumpster was the best option. ( I must confess I’m not sure how this makes you a socialite.)
Posted by: Colleen| June 03, 2008 at 09:37 PM

Can I just say OH MY GOSH! I mean, really…I can’t even believe this was an issue! Kristin, I’m literally speechless or should I say typeless! Maybe I’m just a mindless person, but I didn’t even think ONE thing about the whole dumpster thing and CERTAINLY wouldn’t have thought throwing stuff out was wrong! If any of those mean commenters want mice-infested snow boots, well, that’s just sad and not even the poorest of poor would’ve wanted those boots I bet?? I’ll say it…because you might get fired if you do…to hell with it and what they think. We ALL have the right to feel or think certain ways but that doesn’t make it right or wrong! Throw out your stuff if you want, give it to Good Will if you want but don’t condemn someone for renting a dumpster…UGGHH! I mean seriously, I feel like a valley girl :) I would trust your judgment on what you deem (sp?) worthy of donating and what you don’t! I still love ya and will continue to subscribe for my lifetime to Real Simple! (Unless I hear you are throwing away live baby seals or something!) Teehee :)
Posted by: Staci| June 03, 2008 at 10:39 PM

I’m posting again because I just read the other blogs. WOW! These people are harsh. You would think they would try to gently woo people over to more recycling and environmentally friendly living but…… they are just angry. I almost had to laugh at how carried away they seemed to get. If they are this outraged at your dumpster Kristin, think how something really significant must send them over the edge. They can have their blog. I’ll stick with yours and Real Simple Magazine.
Posted by: Colleen| June 03, 2008 at 11:33 PM

It’s so funny! I was in the middle of doing the exact same thing when I got my issue and read your letter. We moved a year ago and haven’t been able to park our cars in our garage yet for the mountains of boxes. (We opened boxes from 20+ years ago that moved back from Greece and my husband’s first duty assignment!) We ended up with many happy mice families this winter as well and our stuff was so disgusting that no one would have wanted it nor would it have been sanitary to donate it! It’s amazing how people who get entrenched in a cause or movement often can’t see any other point of view but their own. Don’t let them get you down. If you feel as good as I do with your basement decluttered, a few snarky comments are worth it!
Posted by: MilitaryMom| June 04, 2008 at 05:47 AM

Did you read the recent cover story of The New York Times Magazine on the woman (Emily, I believe) who blogged for Gawker? A very interesting peak into the psyche of someone who blogs for a living. At least for this woman, critically and “with snarkiness” were not only her preferred methods for viewing the world, but also required in her blogging in order to generate the page views and viral momentum on which blogs thrive. It may not apply to the blogs that covered this “issue”, but it is a fascinating peak into that world which, at first blush, seems rather uncomplicated.
Posted by: Gary R| June 04, 2008 at 05:51 AM

I enjoyed reading your editor’s note in the June issue of Real Simple. I didn’t get the impression you were throwing away perfectly good things – just cleaning out the debris of your basement. I didn’t have a negative thought about what you are doing. I am sure you used your good judgment. I don’t think you throw away perfectly good things for the fun of it! Real Simple is my favorite magazine. It’s always full of recycling ideas and new uses for common items around the house. Keep up the good work!
Posted by: Linda| June 04, 2008 at 08:22 AM

Hi,
I always look forward to your Editor’s Letter in the magazine and I remember reading about your basement clean-up and I thought…well, Good Job…it sounded like a lot of hard work to get it cleaned up. I think people are way too judgemental. I think it’s silly to think that Real Simple Magazine isn’t an environmentally friendly magazine. The people that stated that obviously don’t read the magazine. I’ve read several articles in the last few months promoting environmental awareness! It’s possible that some of your junk was someone else’s treasure…and probably some of it could have been donated, but I’m almost positive that you’ve done other things to help the environment and the earth. It’s all the little steps that we take that matters.
Posted by: Yolanda| June 04, 2008 at 08:34 AM

From the looks of the basher’s blogs you are now “cool” enough for them to make fun of…
-For the one commenting she canceled her subscription, I renewed mine yesterday.
-For the one commenting there is no excuse…there is an excuse, if it is not suitable for me, I am certainly not going to push it off on someone less fortunate…I work at a non-for-profit and it is an insult when we receive tattered clothes and broken items, the women we serve don’t deserve your thrown out crap.Throwing out stuff can be THRILLING, especially when you chose to do it wisely and in an eco-friendly sense. RS & Kristin keep up the good work.
Posted by: Lindsay| June 04, 2008 at 08:47 AM

I think sometimes our sanity is the best thing we can give to the environment we live in. That often comes from disposing of the clutter that’s holding us back. I think the mean-spirited readers/bloggers would have a lot more peace of mind if they could focus on their own improvement rather than judging your accomplishments. Good job on bringing peace back to your home; don’t let anyone else disturb it.
Posted by: Aubrey| June 04, 2008 at 09:09 AM

kristin,
thanks for addressing the issue. although i still don’t agree with using your forum to advocate filling up a dumpster with “stuff”, i appreciate your attention to my concern.i certainly don’t ‘hate’ you, or real simple, i just think that the few impressionable words you are able to offer each issue could be better, more sustainable advice than throwing out everything you can find in a cluttered room.i realize things need to be thrown out every once in a while.
of course i throw things away myself.
it’s not really even so much of a problem that your filled dumpster will go sit in a landfill – that’s fine. the problem is that all the things you choose to trash are going to eventually have to be remade – using energy and materials.
that’s the definition of not being sustainable.instead of recycling the items in your basement, you’re making the problem worse two-fold. you’re creating the waste for the landfill, and then down the road, you’ll replace those items with new things, using more resources.anything can be recycled – paper, wood, metal, plastic. it takes a bit more effort, but these materials can be re-used, repurposed and recycled so that they don’t have to be created again. that’s what recycling does.again, i’m not asking for perfection. i just don’t understand why you chose your editor’s letter to suggest something so unsustainable and in my opinion, irresponsible.yes everyone does it – everyone also has picked their nose in the car, smelled a sock to see if its clean, ran the dishwasher when it wasn’t totally full because they didn’t have the energy to wash a bowl. we all do these things, but we don’t recommend them to others as thrilling.you’re in a position where you can encourage people to do cool things – you can set the standard for ‘cool’. you have 1.9 million people reading your words each month. think of all the things you could suggest that would be better for them, the earth, and the state of their basement. that’s the challenge.
Posted by: i suwannee| June 04, 2008 at 10:22 AM

Read your Editor’s letter. Loved it as usual (yep, my favorite part of RS). I’m with all the women here who say…”Say what??” This is the only blog I get…and boy am I glad.
Posted by: Cathy I.| June 04, 2008 at 10:23 AM

Thanks, everybody–I appreciate the comments both encouraging and critical. Yes, I try to do the right thing when I can, as most of us do. Yes, I’ve got too much stuff (as most of us do). It’s a good reality check sometimes to be reprimanded by readers and bloggers, even if, well, certain standards just aren’t attainable but this one semi-crazed working mother of three. Anyway, thanks for reading, one and all.

Posted by: kristin van ogtrop| June 04, 2008 at 01:51 PM

When I read your editor’s note in that issue, I was reminded of my in-laws who needed to fill a dumpster after their basement had flooded. I was almost waiting for you to say the same thing had happened to you (so hopefully you’ll feel glad that wasn’t the case). Obviously even if things in their basement could have been donated or recycled, reused, etc. nothing could have been saved after the flooding, unfortunately. What my husband and I took away from his parents’ experience was that it is not worth saving things you don’t need and will never use again. Then reading your letter, to me, was more about removing unnecessary clutter – alway a valuable lesson. When we moved recently we were able to sell many things at a garage sale, donate as much as possible, and unfortunately throw out things that simply could not be used by others or us. Thank you for the note, again, about how reducing your unnecessary “stuff” is actually quite liberating! Keep writing and we’ll keep reading.
Posted by: Cathleen| June 04, 2008 at 02:36 PM

Kristin,
Let those mean-spirited comments roll right off you. The holier-than-thou folks who made them need to chill a bit. One man’s trash is not necessarily anyone’s treasure. Sometimes it’s just plain trash, period. It’s insulting to donate items that you wouldn’t use/wear yourself.
And by the way ……….. if people are going to preach their beliefs, haven’t they heard that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?
Ann-Marie
Posted by: ann-marie| June 04, 2008 at 02:39 PM

I really think that reduce, reuse, recycle is an important mantra. It’s not your dumpster of junk that hurts, it’s the stuff that we do everyday. The plastic shopping bags, water bottles, etc. that never get recycled are what is really hurting the enviroment. I read your comments and never thought twice about your basement cleaning dumpster. I like to think of myself as a greenie in training (I’m lime green now, but shooting for the kelly green range :) ) I use cloth shopping bags, refillable mugs for my coffee binges, and I recycle everything I can. All we can do is try our best. And let ye without green sins cast the first stone…….
Posted by: Pat| June 04, 2008 at 02:40 PM

I understand just what you went through when you were purging your crap! I used to be like you. Now, I put everything in a green garbage bag and let them make the decision about what they want to keep. I then let my husband deliver the bags. Why is it that women always feel so guilty about everything?
Posted by: Bonnie Grad| June 04, 2008 at 02:48 PM

I just went over to i suwannee’s “blog” and told her to get a life. I’m sure that had any of the stuff you threw into the dumpster been usable or in donatable condition, you would have done so. After clearing out my daughter’s room and the closet in there, our tally was 6 big bags/boxes of old toys and household items donated to the thrift store and 6 bags of trash. Next up is our bedroom and closet and believe me, a lot of clothes are going to be donated. My personal donation test is, Could anyone wear this in its present condition? If a piece of clothing has an un-removable stain, is ripped, or is missing buttons or has a broken zipper, or if footwear is all torn up inside (or mice infested, ha ha!) the answer is NO and it will be trashed.
Posted by: Anne| June 04, 2008 at 03:44 PM

Are you seriously going to take criticism from someone who can’t punctuate? ;-)
Posted by: Judi in Boston| June 04, 2008 at 08:52 PM

Well, I don’t think mean-spiritedness is right, online or in real life, but I think the point is that this *could* be construed as saying that getting a dumpster is the answer to simplifying a chaotic life. What was thrown wasn’t exactly clarified. Things that are in the editor’s letter set the tone for a publication, and I think THAT is what some people were responding to. It was less a judgement of YOU and more a judgement of what you wrote. (At least that’s how I felt–how could an editor in this “green-trendy” day and age do that?) Frankly, though, reading this made me more upset because it’s so utterly defensive and most of the comments are so Pollyannaish.
Posted by: Christine| June 04, 2008 at 09:40 PM

I love all your “Adventures in Chaos” and pass them along to my friends and family. I save them until I really need an uplifting moment at work. I suspect the folks writing have likely not cleaned-out their basement, attic or closet in years. Tell them to pull up their socks and get on with it.
Posted by: Marylandmimi| June 05, 2008 at 04:40 PM

I am so glad you blog, Kristin. It’s wonderfully refreshing to read someone so real, and honest and interesting. You post what we all think in our heads as women, but are afraid make us monsters. To know that a magazine editor who is a mom and a wife thinks the same thing (and I think it’s really evident by reading the comments that a lot of readers identify with you) is liberating and reassuring. Thank you, thank you.
– Margo Morgan
Posted by: Margo Morgan| June 05, 2008 at 11:02 PM

Don’t feel bad.People will have internet (or letter!) flame-wars over anything.Remember that people need to be angry sometimes. It’s not so much pointed at you as it is NOT pointed at themselves or whatever hurt them. For every overreaction there’s an under reaction hidden somewhere.
Posted by: Annissa| June 06, 2008 at 02:33 AM

Oh good grief! I’ve always wondered about the lives of people who go on rampages like that. Seriously, do they not have anything else more important to worry about?? There are times when it’s either do it imperfectly or not do it. You do what you have to do. I say forget them, and enjoy your cleaned out basement.
Posted by: Michele Peters| June 11, 2008 at 09:07 PM

Hello Kristin:
I have never before responded to an article in a magazine however the dumpster thing is
liberating! I have 16 year old triplets and before we moved a few years ago I rented a dumpster. This forced me to sell, donate and dump items which naturally accumulated over our family’s history. It truly was a jump start for organizing our family.
Regards, Ellen
Posted by: Ellen Tighe| June 24, 2008 at 04:23 PM

I think you’re GREAT like Tony the Tiger says.
Posted by: Charlotte| June 27, 2008 at 12:43 PM

I read this post a few days ago, and several times have had tried to comment, but in the end, a quote I ran across on Ariane Benefit’s organization blog says it better than anything I could ever write.“”…for those who suffer from the feeling of being completely overwhelmed and not knowing where to start, even a simple decision becomes crippling and the clutter piles up, contributing even more to the feeling of overwhelm and shame.”Sometimes good enough is good enough — you have to save yourself before you save the world.In my eyes, you probably helped more people just by being honest and showing yourself to be human, than you would have had you used your letter as a “platform”.You just earned yourself another subscriber. Thanks, and enjoy your clean basement.
Posted by: Tink| June 27, 2008 at 03:53 PM


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