Opinion: There's no need to de-clutter your life
It’s time to halt the New Year spring clean and celebrate the object preen
‘Clearing clutter and junk out of my life was so exhilarating, I began to clear up other people’s clutter, dirt and junk. I organized my own cleaning company and over the next eight years, I built it into a national organization.’ So goes the gushing self-confessional preface of Don Aslett’s excellent 1984 bestseller The Secret of How to Win Freedom from Clutter. Over the last decade and a bit I’ve hauled Aslett’s book (along with many other self help tomes) from infested squats to overstuffed bedsits to furniture-ridden flats in the hope that his bold words would inspire me to release the gathering hoard, to little or no avail. Don’t get me wrong, like all my treasures I love Aslett’s book – I approve and concur with his chapters on junkosis, hoarder danger zones and physical manifestations of allowing the hogwash to rise. The book also reminds me of the time I first brought it in to the house, having picked it up in a charity shop with other miscellany. It reminds me of how we laughed at the incongruity of this book being part of our lives.
And that, my friends, is the central dilemma about embracing a minimal material lifestyle, rumour of which becomes all too rife in the early months of any year. There is no greater conduit to sweet memory, connection and thought than ‘stuff’. The bags of old letters from a time when it felt like everyone wanted to be my friend, the black wood mask partly carved and gifted by an old friend from Africa, the carefully recorded cassette compilations that still hiss with kinship, love and sometimes even lust. The bright yellow Superlambanana that reminds me of my love of the city of Liverpool, the hoary cobweb-thin posters torn from the walls of damp student digs and kept in cardboard tubes ever since. They all have a place in my humble abode and bear witness to my many past madnesses.
Let me be clear here – I am not advocating the painful strangulation and dying of the senses that comes with severe or extreme hoarding, the compulsion for which undoubtedly lies somewhere on the mental health continuum and needs to be treated with care and humanity. There’s never an excuse to crowd out life, love or creativity with accumulation. What I’m suggesting is bringing a curatorial agenda to those windmills of your mind, the stuff that represents the best of you as you’ve trodden the gravel path to the edge of life. This is not about materialism, it’s about celebration. Clutter isn’t stuck energy and clutter clearing isn’t, as has been suggested, a modern day alchemy, it’s more complicated than that. Organised and curated properly it is the string that leads out of the Minotaur’s maze. It makes some sense out of our random existences. Only you know the true beauty and worth of your life and the objects that can reflect it. So this year, reduce don’t minimalise. Life can be short and harsh and sometimes the shit that surrounds us is all we have. In the words of Albert Einstein: ‘Out of clutter find simplicity.’ But don’t throw that plastic baby your granny gave you out with the bath water.