‘Getting Clean with Stevie Green’ by Swan Huntley: A Decluttered Life

Sophia Carr

These days, the story of a woman attempting to get her life together as she approaches middle age has become a familiar trope. However, Getting Clean with Stevie Green (304 pages; Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), the latest novel by Swan Huntley, feels unique even as it tells the story of thirty-seven-year-old Stevie’s journey to live the life she envisions for herself. This is no small task for Stevie, a professional in the cutthroat business of decluttering people’s homes, as she must deal with addiction and mental illness while coming to terms with her sexuality and navigating the  shifting dynamics of her family relationships.

We are introduced to Stevie six months after she moves back to her hometown of La Jolla, a well-to-do beachside enclave in San Diego County. She sees herself as someone who should’ve grown up to have an easy life, but instead finds herself coping with a “trash fire.” She blames this downward trajectory on an initially undisclosed incident that happened to her in high school. Although we are kept from knowing the details until nineteen chapters in, this incident weighs on Stevie’s psyche from the book’s first pages, especially because she doesn’t know who sparked the incident, and therefore who ruined her life. (A life that has so far been full of drinking excessively and moving around the country in an attempt to escape her past.)

Always get the last word.

Updates and special offers straight to your inbox.

Keep up with the latest from ZYZZYVA by subscribing to our newsletter.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge that your information will be used as described in our Privacy Notice.

Stevie is now determined to get her life together by focusing on her new decluttering business—a business that was conceived after she helped move her widowed mother. Stevie realizes she has a knack for helping other people get their life together by determining what is helping them in their life and what isn’t. Ironically, Stevie proves incapable of doing this for herself, but she is determined to fake it until she makes it—repeating mantras to herself in the car while unopened wine bottles roll near her feet, and coming up with catch phrases to help her clients. She even writes a book for her customers in which she states, “The difference between a clean life and a clean enough life might look small from afar, but it’s actually the Grand Canyon.” This thought relates to Stevie’s life more than she could have predicted, as she seemingly gets her life back together. The business takes off, she rekindles her relationship with her high school boyfriend, and grows closer with Bonnie, her sister, and her mother.

However, Stevie’s attempts to fix her life only cause the cracks in it to reveal themselves. By showing how Stevie’s determination to change is hindered by her inability to assess her own sexuality and the realities of her life, Huntley is able to humanize an individual dealing with addiction and trauma. Stevie is humorous, frank, yet not overly self-deprecating. She is sincere in her desire to motivate others without being overly moralistic. By the end of the novel, Stevie becomes someone you’d actually want to take decluttering advice from because she finally learns how to take inventory of her own life. She reflects, “I decluttered myself from the outside in. I cleaned up my environment first, and the cleaner environment gave me the clarity to look at the deeper mess.”

Through short chapters and alternating points of view, Huntley accurately portrays the way past trauma stays with us—and how it is never too late to learn to deal with it. We root for Stevie to grow as a person, because Getting Clean with Stevie Green makes the reader experience what feels like the trials and tribulations of a close friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *