It’s midday and we’re three hours into a clean out. There is a spirit of revolution in the air. Nothing is safe. Like all revolutions, the clean out was sparked by one single event. The discovery of a bundle of receipts in a sock was the tipping point.
Herself: “Why are you always hoarding receipts?”
Me: “Um, I don’t know – they might be useful for tax purposes”
Herself: “And how exactly do you propose to justify writing off losing Lotto tickets against tax?”
If I had been quicker on my feet I could have said that as an observational stand up comedian, all life is potential material. Therefore any money spent on living could therefore be considered a work-related expense. The flip side though is that I could be sued under the EU Working Hours directive – by myself. Either way, the Lotto ticket went in the bin.
Getting rid of clutter is supposed to be good for the soul. In fact, the Buddha himself said that abandoning our possessions would lead to our happiness. That’s grand for the Buddha to say – generally he only needed a cloak and a comfy chair. He never had to wrestle with such weighty dilemmas as: Is there any point in keeping a neck pillow for travelling by air if we NEVER remember to pack it?
A universal law governs the process of sorting through clutter (the same applies to moving house). It takes 0.00004% of the tidying time to move 90% of the bulk. The rest of the time is taken up with sorting all the fiddly uncategorisable bits – the doodahs, the yokymebobs, the thingummyjigs of this world.
One reason why it takes so long to sort through these is that any distraction is seized upon with gusto. While trying to figure out what to do with a pile of document clips and two marbles, I heard a knock on the door. Two earnest-looking women were outside.
Earnest looking women: “Hello, Do you have a minute to talk about some of the big questions in life?”
Me: “What kind of questions?”
ELW: “Well, questions like Does God Really Care About Us? What happens to us when we die?”
Me: “I have some questions of my own. Any idea what this metal yoke is? Do you think it’s for holding up a shelf?”
They were stumped. To be fair to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their doctrine does have an inbuilt clutter-clearer. Entry to Heaven is limited to only 144,000 chosen people. Perhaps a similar system should hold sway in our house. If there was a rule which said that there could only be 15 items of unidentified jumble at the top of the wardrobe, life would be a lot easier
The problem is: how to decide what is worth keeping? Some items remain simply because of what they are made from. I find it almost impossible to throw away anything metal. Partly, it’s because I think I might be able to melt it down and recast it as a ‘something else’ – despite not possessing even the most basic blacksmithery equipment or skills. As well as that, this metal thing was made for a reason and may have an importance that I don’t recognise now but will regret one day. Great moments in history could have been sabotaged by such a misstep. Neil Armstrong’s epochal moon landing could have been different if NASA engineers had adopted a similar approach
Neil Armstrong: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”
(Amid Cheering) Houston: “Roger that – Tranquility, we copy you on the ground.”
Neil Armstrong: “ Erm…Houston – Is there any handle on this door?”
Unnamed Engineer in Houston: “Oh is THAT what it was?”
Previously, because of all these distractions and doubts, as a household we had a distinctly ‘Vatican’ approach to untidiness. Rather than dealing with clutter directly, we moved it around the house so it just became a problem somewhere else. But all of that is over. Now, there is a zero tolerance approach . People are going to get hurt. Especially as we are using this opportunity to bin items of each other’s clothing that we never liked.
“Colm, this really has to go…”
She’s holding up my leather jacket. I bought it in London ten years ago when I was working on the building sites during the summer. At £120 it was my single most expensive item of clothing. I bought it – as they say in Eastenders – “dahn the mawkih”. The man assured me it fit “like a glove, mate”. It did fit like a glove, if you were missing a couple of fingers.
Over time, I have realised that while leather jackets look good on some men, they make me look like an incompetent drug dealer. But the coat has sentimental value and I want to keep it for that reason alone.
“I can’t throw that out – I’ve had it for years” This cuts no ice with Frau KlutterSturmFuhrer.
“When was the last time you wore it? Look, there’s an Irish pound coin in the pocket.”
“Could we not just hang it up under the stairs?”
Under The Stairs – the seedy Victorian den of clutter. We approach it with trepidation like a Seanad committee looking at Ivor Callelly’s expenses: we’re not sure what strange items we’ll find, but we know it ain’t going to be pretty. Objects are dragged out and thrown onto the sitting room floor where they lie cowering. Badminton rackets, toilet paper, paint, a metal yoke, possibly for holding up a shelf, twelve thousand tea lights – it’s like the centre aisle at Aldi.
We collapse in despair – we hadn’t bargained on sorting through this as well. Simultaneously a solution occurs to both of us and we utter the magic words: