A Look At Life: Clutter

12th April 2013

Solving The Clutter Conundrum

Eluned Thorne

Tidying the house as the Easter holidays come to an end reveals certain, shall we say, discrepancies in our tidying attitudes. That’s not to say anyone in the house is especially untidy, because we’re not. But we do all have our foibles. And our own personal clutter.

Take pens, for example. I treat pens rather like sheep. I know they like to be together. I keep them herded into certain places – the kitchen pen-pot; the desk pen-pot; the side table in the front room – and so if one wanders off and gets itself tangled beneath a metaphorical barbed-wire fence I will return it to the nearest pen-‘field’ so it can be reunited with its mates. I don’t especially bother which goes where though. My husband, however, finds my attitude to pens rather casual. He treats them with much more care and respect. He recently gave me a pen and told me it was ‘for doing the crossword in the front room’. I was touched, and then mystified as to why I needed a particular pen to do this. And then I realised that he believes pens have to be location-specific. He is the true Good Shepherd of pens, and he knows them all by name. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes round re-apportioning them when I’m not looking, gently replacing them in their allotted places and possibly prompting them to launch into a grateful rendition of Handel’s ‘All we like sheep’ in four-part harmony and little squeaky voices.

Then there are bookmarks. These are my personal bugbear, and one, according to my mother, that I have inherited from my dad. I suspect, actually, that bookmarks are hermaphrodites, like worms, and reproduce secretly in the night. This is the only possible explanation for the fact that there are always more on my bedside table than when I last looked. I don’t know why I have so many – I don’t consciously go around collecting them – and I have tried many ways of corralling them: a bookmark container in a drawer; a periodic cull of the perennially dog-eared – but all attempts to impose control have failed miserably. Like worms, they are unavoidable and actually rather useful, and their only failing is that unlike worms they can’t eat what is usually around them. No, not books: dust.

Anyway, I’m going to gloss over dust in the same way that I generally do when cleaning, and move on to children. Anyone who has any (children, not dust) will recognise their innate propensity for moving things about the house. It’s a sort of tidal effect: during the day various items move out of the child’s bedroom/ downstairs cupboards/garden shed and get washed up on the carpet. If you’re lucky, by the end of the day a grand high tide will have strewn them like seaweed somewhere in the vicinity of the TV, from where they can be returned to their proper places, only for the same thing to happen all over again the next day. If you’re unlucky, or tired, or it’s the school holidays; or if there is glitter or lego involved; or if it’s a spring tide and fourteen friends have come to play, the mess accumulates rapidly and randomly and the resulting wave will knock you over. At this point many parents give in graciously, get out their mental surfboards and decide that if they can’t beat the wave, they may as well ride it. (If you’ve ever wondered why we have a high-pile rug in our sitting room, the answer is yes, it was originally bought to look nice, but it’s also very good for concealing bits of childhood tat.)

As for me, I am not a natural clutterer or collector, unless you count books. And Ordnance Survey maps. But I do have my failings. I realised recently that were it not for my iPod Touch, I would probably spend my evenings on the sofa surrounded by any or all of the following: a newspaper, a dictionary, a thesaurus, several shopping catalogues, a complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a Scrabble board, an atlas, a crossword solver, a weather station (complete with anemometer), a pollen counter, a personal music collection and a spirit level. In fact, come to think of it, when we visit my mother’s house quite a few of these items are readily available within easy reach of her chair in front of the television, so I obviously take after her as well as my father.

So the next time my husband moans that I have my nose in my iPod yet again, I’m going to remind him of how much worse it could be if all those personal, essential items were not packed conveniently into one tiny device. And then point out that a Kindle would eliminate the bookmark problem too…

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