Life and the Concept of Clutter

Sounds like I’m writing a philosophical thesis, doesn’t it?  But, I’m not.  It’s just a few thoughts on a subject that bugs me — and millions of others, I suppose — the dreaded ‘c’ word, clutter.

My husband and I have fought many battles over what I call clutter and he calls history. It’s a collection of stuff that we’ve accumulated over our 35 years together.  Some of it’s good stuff, most of it is not.  There’s a lot of stuff we inherited from his parents and that is a particularly touchy area.  There is all the stuff of Landon’s, our son, that I’ve kept.  Our home is packed with bits and pieces of holidays, photographs, art (the kind we could afford), old toys, china teacups, pottery, glass, miniatures, cigar and cigarette cases, rocks, kitsch, junk.

Ah, and there it is: junk.  That’s what usually causes the fight.  (And just so I’m clear about this — no, Tim and I did not have a fight about our ‘junk’ — I woke up this morning thinking about clutter and what it means to each of us.)

Tim’s idea is that our clutter is a form of history.  And I’m beginning to see his side.  My idea is that it is a lot of useless stuff that needs to be gone through and gotten rid of in case we die in a fiery car wreck and our son gets stuck with the onerous job of dealing with it all.  I’ve tried pointing this out to Tim numerous times, because it is what he and his brothers had to do after their parents died (not in a fiery car wreck, though).  He says that although it was tough he was glad they did it.  It brought back a lot of memories of their lives as boys with their parents.

Landon won’t have that because he is an only child, and so, I guess, my reasoning is to protect him from the loneliness of such a task.  But, who knows?  Perhaps he would include his children and share with them some of the memories he had of growing up with us.  It’s impossible to know.

In thinking about my need to clean and purge I’ve come to the realization that it was born from the influence of magazines and television shows.  I love to pick up home decor magazines and leaf through them oohing and aahing over the gorgeous rooms and sparkling bare countertops.  I eye photos of polished wooden tables bare except for lavish bouquets of designer blossoms, and bedrooms with vast expanses of floors bare of anything save  hand-woven, rough-spun cotton throw rugs and I swoon with desire.

I read about ideas for taking treasured mementos and turning them into space-saving crafts — like making a collage of family photos on a wooden tea-tray, or decoupaging your children’s art onto a lamp base, or making mobiles out of old silver place settings handed down from Grandma or old Aunt Dottie.  These are fabulous ideas, and I tell myself that they would work, but then, I mention them to Tim and he gets a horrified look in his eyes.  You want to destroy our pictures?  And then, I get to thinking:  what happens if the project doesn’t turn out as nice as it should.  (This happens, trust me.)  Tim’s suggestion is to take the pictures, make copies and use them.  So, I’m then left with the prospect of still having the original photo clutter and a nice tea-tray that I won’t use, or having the original photo clutter and a tea-tray that gets shunted into a closet somewhere.

Which leads to my next big fear about clutter:  that we become hoarders.

I watch the television show, Hoarders.  It scares the bejeezus out of me.  It’s disturbing to see how out of control people can become when it comes to their stuff.  Could that happen to us, I wonder.  Already our basement is like a maze (even without the couple dozen boxes of my son’s family belongings, stored while they wait to move into their new home).  We have shelving units crammed to the rafters with junk, piles of wood and coffee cans filled with nails, screws, bits of this and bits of that.  Tim has at least a dozen different tool boxes and bags, none of which are full.  His workbench is a complete disarray of everything that just gets plunked there.

In the upstairs, just off our living room, is a closet where I keep my craft projects.  A couple of years ago I went through it and got rid of a bunch of stuff — but it is still crammed with projects I haven’t touched in years.  Beading, knitting, embroidery, calligraphy, painting, weaving, sewing, candle making — it’s all there in the dark, hidden beneath a dozen or so of our unworn coats.  Every year I say I’m going to get rid of those coats, but every year I hang them back up thinking there might be a need for them.  I do this with a heavy heart, knowing that there are plenty of people in our province who could use a nice warm, though slightly dated, coat come winter.  Still, I place them back on the hangers and close the closet door.  Out of sight. . .

. . .but not out of mind.  No, never out of mind.

Getting back to my slowly changing opinion about whether our stuff is history or junk.  I get where Tim is coming from.  Having a houseful of clutter is like having a houseful of interesting.  Those rooms that I so adore, the ones devoid of clutter?  Those would be boring after a while.  Especially to children.  With nothing to look at, touch or play with in such rooms, why would children even want to be in them.  Our rooms, though filled with clutter, and completely lacking any sense of design or decorating taste, are interesting.  When my grandkids come they always find something to ask about or to play with.  And Tim and I both enjoy sharing little stories with them about whatever it is they hold in their hands.

And, when we have visitors, people are always intrigued by some ‘thing’ we’ve got hanging around or sitting on a shelf.  It often amazes me what people notice, but I’m always happy to share a story with them.

And, so, that is why when I woke up this morning thinking with despair about having to dust my kitchen wall unit and the chore that it would be because there is so much junk in and on it, I remembered Tim holding Timothy up to the cupboard and taking out a small, painted metal horse that was part of a game he had when he was a little boy.  And I remembered the look of delight on Timothy’s face as Tim placed it in his hand, and how he listened so carefully while Tim explained how he used to play with it.

Someday, all of these things that have been a part of lives — the trivial, everyday bits and pieces — will be tiny reminders of who we were and that we were.  They are, in a sense, part of our history.

Still the question remains:   How do I achieve balance between history and clutter?  I’m going to leave it for a while; think about it while I dust and hold in my hands some of the past 35 years of my life.

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So, it’s a New Year. . .

. . .  and, as always comes the resolutions.  This year, like last, I’ve resolved to not make any.

There, that’s done.

Now, onward.

As it is a new year, however, I can’t help falling into the trap of looking back and wondering what I can do to improve myself, or make better use of the life I have.  Therefore, I have come up with the following ‘to-do’ list, or perhaps ‘want-to-do’ list, might be a better way of putting it:

1.  Each day, do one thing that makes me happy — this could be to write a poem, take a picture, read a book, help someone in need, write a letter (a dying art, and one that I’ve tried numerous times to revive), post a blog, watch a silly sit-com (How I Met Your Mother; New Girl), visit the art gallery, take a walk in the sunshine, play a game with my grandkids, there are many, many things that make me smile, make me happy — I need only do one a day to keep my balance.

2.  Stay true to my goals — this means WORK on my novel.  I did not spend an entire month of my life writing like a fiend to just let those 50,000 words grow mold.  It also means focus less on work and more on life — at 53 (damn near 54 years of age)  I have come to the realization that work, though necessary, is not the keystone of life.  Life is.

3.  Read a book a month.  I love to read.  Really love it, almost as much as writing.  But, for the past 5 – 10 years I have not been reading as much as I once did.  I have let work, and work-related obligations, my unrealistic expectations of myself and what it means to be ‘successful’ take control of my life and my time and have, sadly, let reading slip away.  I have a small library of books that I’ve been given and that I’ve purchased just sitting collecting dust.  No more!  I will make friends with reading again.

4.  I will waste time looking through home renovation and decorating magazines.  And I will watch HGTV from time to time.  I love reading about ways to make your home beautiful.  Though I may not do any of things I read or watch I can gain excitement and grow enthusiasm from them, and who knows?  Maybe, just maybe I’ll find something that sparks my creativity.  I used to be quite creative  — stencilling tables, walls, furniture, painting old chairs, sewing dolls, making things out of wood — I would love to find that in me again.

5.  Start crocheting again.  Once upon a time I used to crochet all the time.  Over the past 15 years all I’ve done is buy wool and patterns.  Those materials that I haven’t donated or sold at garage sales are sitting in baskets and in cupboards.  The basket of wool makes a nice, ‘homey’ decoration in my living room, but, really, that wool would make a lovely shawl or scarf.  For me.  Ha, ha!

6.  Paint the bedroom my grandkids stay in.  It is such a hideous space right now.  Plain white, ugly grey accordion closet doors, makeshift shelves Tim put up shortly after we moved in.  I envision lovely sky-blue walls with billowy clouds on the ceiling.  I would replace the plastic mini-blinds with a venetian shade and light, cottony curtains.  I would remake the closet into a toy closet and add a small bookshelf for the books I’ve started collecting for them.  It would be a space as delightful as they are.

7.  Become a better, more accomplished cook.  It’s funny.  I’ve always liked cooking, but as I’ve matured I have come to love it.  I’ve always collected cookbooks and recipes — just ask my husband who is constantly telling me there is a better way to organize them than in the one cupboard and two drawers where I have them stashed and stuffed — and I like nothing more than to sit on the floor with recipe books and cut-outs spread all around me reading through them for inspiration.  I invested in a Kitchen-Aid food processor this Christmas — fantastic sale at London Drugs on Boxing Day!  Can’t wait to put it to the test.

8.  Develop a system for keeping my office neat and tidy and actually follow it for more than a week.  ‘Nuff said.

9.  Dream more.  Plan trips I might never get to take.  Fantasize about money I’ll most likely never have (the current Lotto Max commercial?  That’s me and Tim.)  Imagine a bright future for my son and his family in which money, stress and worry is non-existent.  See Tim and I living ‘down east’ temporarily like we’ve talked about ever since our motorcycle trip to visit my brother and his family in Dartmouth, NS.  Actually getting to meet Stephen King and blubber on to him about how great I think he is and how his writing and his life have inspired me.  Be short-listed for a writing prize or award.

10.  Organize my photos!  My lord I’ve got gazillions of them.  Digital cameras are wonderful, but the hundreds of pictures I’ve downloaded that never get erased, shared or printed is ridiculous.  So, I have decided to become ruthless.  And actually take the external hard-drive I bought for storing my pictures on out of its package and use the damn thing!

11.  Exercise regularly.  I walk a lot, but not nearly enough.  Once upon a time I used to walk for at least an hour every day, now it’s a half hour 3 – 4 days a week.  I have a treadmill and free-weights that I barely use.  I will endeavour to use them at least 3 times a week.  Yoga starts again on the 16th.  I bought myself a good mat and am determined to start doing a few exercises each morning before work.  This sounds exhausting.  Don’t know how successful this ‘to-do’ item will be.  Perhaps I’m just getting lazy.

12.  Blog at least once a week, but not more than twice a week.  Trying to blog everyday had become a major source of stress for me.  I was comparing myself to many other bloggers, some of whom post two to three times a day.  In my job I don’t have the time to blog (I’m rarely sitting at a desk) and, even if I did, my employer would not take kindly to me using my work time for personal pursuits.  I’ve tried blogging during my breaks, but that never works because I take my break in the classroom and there are always others in the room and you know what that is like.  No concentration, constant interruptions, etc.   Mornings are too rushed and in the evening, well, if I’m going to work on my novel I need the time for that.  So, once a twice a week it will be.

13.  Visit other bloggers on the days I’m not blogging.  There are so many fine bloggers out there, many whom I’ve subscribed to and yet I can’t seem to keep up with visits.  Currently, my email has over 400 notifications in it, none of which I’ve checked up on.  Two-thirds of these notifications are from bloggers I subscribe to.  I feel terrible that I never get around to reading half of what enters my in-box.  There is a ton of great writing there, I just know it, but I simply don’t have the time.  So, I will read what I can, when I can and comment accordingly.  The blogging world is made up of some of the most amazing, understanding people in the world and I know that this will be fine with them.  And really, it’s only just me.

14.  Worry less.  I used to joke:  If I don’t have something to worry about, then something must be wrong.

15.  Say “I love you” more often.  Such a simple thing, and yet, so often forgotten.  I want the people I care about to know it.  Saying those three little words is all that is needed.

16.  Thumb my nose at 2012 Doomsday predictions.  I read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy a couple of years ago.  It affected me more than I thought.  I have carried a seed of dread in the core of my being ever since finishing it.  I have allowed it to grow and it has spread a noxious weed that has tangled itself throughout my being.  It’s time to yank it out and burn it.  Better to believe in present day examples of the good of humankind when disaster strikes rather than some imagined apocalyptic  horror.

Well, that’s it.  My list of things to do this year and beyond.  I’m printing it off and placing it near my writing station.  On a wall, where it won’t get lost beneath a mountain of paper.  Now wait a minute, what number does that come under?