Hard to come clean when dealing with life’s clutter



In his novella Franny And Zooey, JD Salinger recalls a visit to a sibling’s home: “The room was not impressively large, even by Manhattan apartment-house standards, but its accumulated furnishings might have lent a snug appearance to a banquet hall in Valhalla.”

In our journey through life, we tend to accumulate so much clutter — and I don’t mean the emotional baggage of life’s ups and downs — but concrete stuff, objects, countless bric-a-brac, bought, borrowed or come-upon and stored for some other day when we might just find a use for it.

We never do, of course, and the stuff just piles up. The stuff of furnishings, of pastimes and hobbies, the family memorabilia, the excess goods and gadgets that we may once have had temporary need of, but no more.

The other day, Yer Man at the bar says: “It’s interesting to see that people had so much clutter even thousands of years ago. The only way to get rid of it all was to bury it, and then some archaeologist with a head don him comes along and digs it all up. Just sayin’ like…”

Humans are natural hoarders. I know. My clutter from four or five decades might well lend a snug appearance to that banquet hall in Valhalla. But I’m not alone.

When was the last time you saw your dining room table? Or at least the top of your dining room table? Particularly with working from home during their pandemic. If you’re like most busy people, you know it’s there somewhere — buried under piles of old bills, stacks of unread newspapers and copies of your children’s school reports. Maybe it’s your car, hall closet or garage that’s stuffed to the gills. Clutter can easily materialise in all the corners of our living and working spaces. And the affliction has got worse as life has grown busier, more crowded and faster-paced.

Ironically, says my psychologist friend from Magherafelt, the very things we buy to make our lives ‘simpler’ and more convenient often end up exacerbating the problem. We get bigger closets, and bigger storage bins, bigger houses and garages to put it all in. But, somehow, the stuff always keeps pace.

Clutter sneaks up on us so insidiously that by the time we see all the stacks and piles and layers for what they really are, the mere thought of waging battle against them can be terrifying.

Now, with a spring clean in the air, I’m told I need to get rid of everything I don’t want, don’t need, will never need again. “Take it to charity shops, recycle centres, put it on eBay if you think anyone would have need of your old stuff,” my daughter says.

Hmmm, where to start…

Those VHI tapes for starters. But I’m going to copy them to digital.

All those old magazines and clippings? Research, I say.

And does any man really need so many shoes and shirts? A good-fitting shirt and proper shoes are important, I retort.

It’s a losing battle and so I must take stock, make an inventory and pare back. It’s a daunting task. Those old videos contain footage of my children’s first steps; the newspaper clippings of my early days in journalism, found in my parents’ house when cleaning out their clutter after they died; and it would pain me to part with old vinyl and cassettes.

As for my books, well even though I may never read Franny And Zooey a third time, it would be equally painful to part with my books for, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, no place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a [man’s] library.

Paul Simon wrote: “Preserve your photographs. You have a memory.”

My bric-a-brac and accumulated clutter down the years is a testament to a life. The physical manifestations of a lifetime’s experience — a lifetime’s living. For that reason alone, I wish to hang on to my stuff, stuff that means little if anything to others but is my world to me.

Proof, as it were, of my having been.


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