I flick through the House and Garden mags at the supermarket (although I do have an old collection of my own) and wonder at the perceived modern beauty of black and chrome kitchens and tidy open living spaces: “where is all their stuff?!” I think to myself.
When we were young, the local grocer’s shop at the corner of the next street was owned at one stage by the Clutterbuck family. I fell in love with the sound of their surname and, most probably, the fact that it contained the word ‘clutter’.
I do like a good clutter and while I recoil from the pathology inherent in the ‘H’ word (hoarding), I do have some sympathy for these people who somehow cannot let things go, and continue to add to ‘things’ over years and years until they are surrounded by enormous piles of ‘things’ which are precious to them but incomprehensible to others who see them as the ‘J’ word (junk).
Now I do realise that clutter and the acquisition of large amounts of inanimate items with which to fill one’s house is not cool. I read the Life Coach columns the same as everyone else and can sympathise with the cleansing release of a jolly good de-clutter, let alone the modern imperative of the necessity of learning how to let go. But dig deeper (if you can find it, it was in one of those piles, you must have left it somewhere), and you will come to agree with me, I am sure, that that book, photo, magazine, precious object you are after is so meaningful and comes loaded with such a back story that it is simply un-throw-out-able. It was probably given to you by a dear friend or it was a bargain at the library book sale or you found it while clearing out your deceased parent’s house.
Such a thing, a black and white vase 1950’s vase (which would now be considered retro), adorns my dresser, and although it has a fine crack in it, still holds water. More importantly than the functional tick, it gets an even bigger emotional tick, as I remember it in our lounge on the rare occasions my Mother was given flowers or took the time to pick them from the garden.
What the de-cluttering gurus do not understand, is that, to those of us who clutter (consciously or without realising it), our things are our friends. We like to see them about us, in all their colourful, curved and narrative glory. We ignore dictionary definitions such as this one from Merriam Webster:
Sure, we have bad days and the clutter takes on the appearance of a big, out-of-control mess, but that does not last long as we arrive home with another precious object or we try to clear out the boxes in the basement, and fail. Health and Safety legislation aside, we learn to navigate our own special way around the house, seldom coming to grief.
We do not invite psychologists, anal people, extremely tidy people (a pathology in itself, I would hasten to add), disciples of the ‘paper free/save the trees/think of the planet’ movement and “all you need in life is your smartphone” people to our house. Of course, they are missing out, because in our houses, mid-conversation, we can leap up and retrieve a book, an ornament, a trinket, treasure, a painting and declare: “this illustrates/contributes to/ enhances exactly that of which we speak!”
In her wonderful and erudite memoir, M Train, Patti Smith, while she may not be a mistress of clutter, does appreciate the preciousness of things. She writes of talking to her valued objects during a period in her life of depression and self-enforced solitude; they give her comfort, they are her friends, they help her sort things out and they listen really well. Any lover of the Bloomsbury group will savour photos of their crowded drawing rooms: receptacles of some of the finest literary and creative minds ever, who produced treasures to look at, read, hold, smell and think about.
The eloquent poem “The objects in my room” by Maurice Leiter seems to summarise my sentiments. “All familiar housemates,”, he writes, “co-conspirators of dreams … these gentle things enablers of my living …”
He does not feel the need to explain or apologise: how admirable.
Lorraine Ritchie is a registered nurse who is currently working as a professional nursing adviser in the Southern region for the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation (NZNO). Her employment background is primarily in aged care nursing. She has held various clinical, management and education and research roles and has a deep concern and passion for ensuring quality care of older people in NZ. She also holds a strong interest in Arts and health and is a published poet. She has recently graduated with a PhD on meaning and medication for older people.