Sunday, 5 November 2006

"Clutter" published November 5, 2006

Clutter used to be a sign that you were quite interesting. The type of person who has actually read the 2000 books that line the walls of your house, collect interesting old bits of expensive china, and take a keen interest in the arts, thus owning a house which looks like the interior of a dusty old bric a brac shop.
And one day someone will come and take a picture of you with your mad frizzy hair, lounging artistically in your antique arm chair surrounded by all your curios and the odd cat and remark at how, well… deranged you look.
Because today living with clutter means you’re grubby, disorganised and have a nagging tendency towards nostalgia. It means you have never thrown away a present that has been given to you because as much as you dislike the teapot with the words “cuppa time!” emblazoned across it’s belly, you just can’t get rid of it. Someone very dear to you presented it to you on your 35th birthday. And that’s what you do with presents. You keep them as a continuing souvenir of your friendships.
But as I gaze through people’s houses, the inspirational tributes to minimalism that they are, I have come to the rather slow and sad realisation that they must have thrown all their presents out. How else do you maintain a house with nothing on the surfaces except a Country Road glass bowl placed strategically at the entrance to the house, where you keep a glass bowl in case you happen to be overcome by the need to toss a salad while answering the door. That and a solemn little group of white virgin scented candles on the coffee table just in case you feel like a séance. That’s it. No rugs, no book, no piles of magazines, no vases and one piece of art, which isn’t technically art because it’s an Andy Warhol reproduction of the homeowner cleverly reproduced in four different colours a la Marilyn Monroe.
To maintain a truly clutter free house you must therefore never keep a present from anyone unless they buy the right colour of solemn scented candles or a Country Road glass bowl.
If most people have at least eight relatives who are close enough for present giving that’s conservatively 16 presents a year if you count Christmas and birthdays. And most people would like to think they have at least five good friends so that’s another 10 presents a year. Which brings us to a massive input of 26 books, CD’s, pieces of kitchen stuff, pashmina, ear-rings, lamps, pot plants and not solemn scented candles which must be disposed of each year. This means you are throwing out a present every two weeks. And then there are the cards. What must it feel like to idly toss a greeting card into the bin after reading the words “Our friendship is the one thing that’s kept me together this year, you are my rock.”
But perhaps, like the Queen these tidy no-mess people wrap them all lovingly in tissue paper and store them in neat cardboard boxes with our names on them in the garage. Then after our death they will be delivered to our distraught relatives as a lasting memory to our love and generosity. Or maybe they take pictures of them and put them in a “Present Album” each carefully notated with the gift giver and the date before they dispose of them.
Recently, after reading one too many “De-Clutter your House” articles which you find in every magazine these days, I tried throwing a few gifts out because according the article I hadn’t used them in the past six months therefore didn’t need them. I’m not sure how you actually use a pot plant, but it went anyway. Some I’ve passed on to very happy Trade Me customers, others have simply been hurled into the bin. Each action crippled me for days with the nagging feeling that the gift giver would turn up just when the rubbish is being collected and see their precious gift being hurled into the back of the rubbish truck by two swarthy men.
But now I miss them. I can still see those little gifts staring at me from their wrapping paper the day I opened them and I wonder how they are getting on in their new homes or at the bottom of the tip. So I’ve stopped the purging. I like presents, and their memories and at least my “cuppa time!” teapot survived.

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