A recent programme on DStv about hoarders sufficiently horrified me that I have started purging my home of clutter, one shelf or drawer per day.
It's 10 days down the line and seven black bags later. And it feels great. I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I have serious hoarding tendencies.
A borderline hoarder
How can I not think that? In the last 10 days of my domestic scorched earth campaign I have come across essays I wrote at school, T-shirts that had their heyday 20 years ago, rockhard tubes of superglue, a broken toaster, class notes I made in 1981, several ancient municipal bills, and equally ancient love letters.
OK, I don't have difficulty getting in through the front door, or finding my bed or the bathroom, like some of the poor souls on TV, but I am a borderline hoarder nevertheless.
I would have made a very poor hunter gatherer. Contrary to what the name suggests, they couldn't gather much else besides food – when they moved to a new place (which was often), the father carried all the household stuff, and the mother could carry only one child. (That's why they spaced their kids four years apart – a four-year-old can walk by itself and a mother cannot carry two infants, but that's a topic for another column).
Not even Mr Universe could carry my household. In fact, I think a herd of working elephants might struggle.
A lump in my throat
So, why do we do this? Is it just because we have the space, and empty cupboards crying to be filled? Is it because we are sentimental? Frugal? Saving for a rainy day? Too lazy to clear out stuff? Clinging to memories? Or all of the above?
I blame a song that haunted me in childhood about a discarded and broken rag doll lying on a rubbish heap weeping. It had me in tears at the age of four. I still get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.
Old habits clearly die hard.
I find myself feeling sorry for the torn T-shirt I am throwing out. I feel a bit cruel to chuck two disintegrating and moth-eaten books in the bin. (Why do we have this thing about books having to be treated like sacred objects? Some of them deserve the same respect as a week-old newspaper). How must the poor cracked oven dish feel?
You get this picture. But I don't think I always do.
But it's not just the song I blame. We live in a society where stuff is often equated with happiness and contentment. Less is more is so not the mantra of the modern brainwashed consumer. We buy, therefore we are, or so we think. Stuff makes us feel safe, nurtured, prepared – and it eventually suffocates us. It takes up not just physical space, but mental space.
Clutter does indeed absorb energy.
I am not a compulsive buyer or an enthusiastic shopper, but clearly once an object has made it past the fortress walls of my home, it thinks itself safe for generations to come. And with good reason: I struggle to chuck stuff out, in case I might need it one day. Or in some way I manage to offend the person who gave it to me. Or besmudge the memory of the writer of that particular birthday card. Or forget the experiences I had when wearing that garment (that hasn't fitted for 30 years).
Chuck out that stuff
Don't get me wrong – there is a place for sentimentality. About the size of a shoe box I think is reasonable. The poem my first boyfriend wrote me (and even the jaded critic I have become since then, had to admit it was really good) does not deserve to go to the Vissershok landfill site.
But many other things do: stuff left behind by former tenants, puzzles missing 20 pieces, a box of old buttons and safety pins, a cellphone charger from the 90s, a pair of rusty and blunt scissors, vitamins past their sell-by-date and a boarding pass from my first trip to Rome.
The bottom line is, if I have not needed any of these things in 20 years, it is unlikely that I will any time soon. What's more, even if I suddenly had an overwhelming need for a pair of blunt scissors, I would not have been able to find it in the jumble that was my home.
And let's face it: should we suddenly have an urgent desire for blue plastic buttons, the Chinese shop around the corner can surely oblige for an inconsiderable amount.
Forget an expensive weekend at a spa – all you need to feel great, is to chuck out the stuff you are never going to use again, recycle useable stuff to the nearest charity shop, and reduce the clutter in your life.
So, it's a case of refuse, recycle and reduce – the latter also refers to your stress levels.
And wouldn't you believe it? The blue button has just come off my shirt, and there is not a safety pin to be found in the house.
It's off to the Chinese shop for me...
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