In praise of clutter,but then Louisa set a decluttering challenge and I'm forced to admit that this would be really useful for me to do. So you see, my feelings on clutter are somewhat ambivalent.
Why on earth would anyone want to defend clutter? Pretty much by definition, clutter is excess stuff that gets in the way. We are bombarded with advice on how to declutter, the orthodoxy being that too much stuff is the bane of our affluent lives. This is my problem: It has become an orthodoxy, and this is particularly true amongst the
simple livingcommunity. Now, I'm all for simple living and opting out of the consumerist treadmill. For me, shopping is a chore not a recreation and the latest new gizmo rarely holds any appeal.
So what is it about the decluttering movement that bothers me? I'm a hoarder by nature. I hang on to things not so much for sentimental reasons, but in case they might come in useful one day. I do have a lot of old junk and occasionally give in to the pressure to get rid of some of it. I always regret it shortly afterwards. I once looked in the boot of my car and and thought,
I've never used those things - I don't even know what they're for,and threw them away. That included the jack. Luckily, by the time I had a flat tyre and needed it, I was with Ian, who not only had his own jack, but also knew how to use it.
Advice is always given in terms of how recently you last used the thing (example above: Never).
Be merciless. If you haven’t used it in the last year, get rid of it.The last year?! I'm currently making a camera bag (ahem, yes, well, I really must get back to that project) from fabric that's been in my cupboard since I inherited it over twenty years ago! Even I admit that's a little extreme, but one year does seem a ridiculously short timescale. Is that just me?
I don't buy the idea that owning things uses up mental resources, either. Yesterday I was standing on a step ladder to paint the top of a wall and thought,
This would be much easier if I used the other ladder.Then I couldn't remember when I'd last seen that other ladder. I asked Ian,
Am I imagining it, or do we own another step ladder, that's shorter, with a table bit at the top?He looked baffled. Eventually I remembered - I used to own such a ladder, when I lived with my first husband. It must have gone with his share of our things (it's not just books and CDs you have to split). On that occasion, a ladder I no longer owned used up far more mental energy than it would have done if I'd still owned it.
Eco Cat Lady shared her revelation (it took me ages to find that again, and when I did, I see she used pretty much the same title as this post. I'm not copying, honest!) that nobody really owns anything. Stuff exists and we give it house space for a while. Why should we give up our precious space when the stuff could just as well go off and exist somewhere else? We could always go and get stuff when we need it. I tried this thought on for size. I turned it around in my head and pondered it a while, but I just couldn't make it fit. Eventually, I figured out why I didn't feel comfortable with this idea.
Having stuff stored elsewhere, to be got when needed, clashes with the idea of self sufficiency. Now, I hope I don't go as far as thinking of myself as an island, capable of meeting all needs without input from anyone else (even as an ideal - obviously not in practice) - I do value the interdependent nature of community - but the idea of self sufficiency is very appealing to me. When I'm thinking about what to have for dinner, my first thought is,
What have I got in the garden?When I need a new set of shelves (to store all the junk that I can't bear to throw away - yes, I know), my first thought is,
Do I have any suitable materials in the workshop?
I love having stuff available when I need it. I love reusing things that other people would throw away. I love the challenge of turning something into something else (as I write this, my husband reads to me from 2CVGB News,
Laura Ashley fabric has cunningly turned four wheels into a pair of sturdy fireside pouffes- I think I could pick up some creative storage tips there!) Having to go and get stuff when needed takes either money or considerable time to find exactly what you need second hand (and still some money too, usually).
I remain an unrepentant hoarder!
But still, we do have too much stuff...
There are things we own that I definitely intend to get rid of: An electric hob that we took out of our last kitchen to replace with a gas one, toys bought for a party and not used again, many back issues of New Scientist that I'm never actually going to get round to re-reading... When we moved house we hired a 7.5 ton truck, and couldn't get all our stuff in it. At that point we agreed that we have too much stuff and must get rid of some. We've done nothing about it since, so Louisa's November decluttering challenge is the kick up the backside that I need. I'll write about it in a separate post, but the challenge has started. In the meantime I must go and fit an air vent into the floor and finish painting that room.