COLM O'REGAN: Tackling the attic and the 'War on Stuff'

If I’d known this important truth, I wouldn’t have been in a hurry to grow up: Adult life is mostly getting things in and out of the attic, wrties Colm O’Regan

Each time, I think we’ve honed our ‘stuff systems’, each time we think we’ve won the ‘War on Stuff’, each time we collapse triumphant, exhausted at the end of a day spent Sorting That Bloody Attic Once And For All. But we’re wrong. We merely won a skirmish. The war goes on.

There is a brief period of peace. I go up into the attic and revel in the square inches and square inches of floor space. The floor used to be ankle deep in promotional hotel pens that didn’t work, one strap-pad for a car seat, brochures from the time you went to the bank to ask a question and they tried to make you open fourteen accounts.

Now it stretches away for feet in every direction. Around the edges are boxes where objects have been thrown because of a loose association. “This is where the insulating tape goes ok? And also that clip for the clothes rack, because they both relate to heat transfer. Ok?”

Then standards start to slip. Systematic governance failures elsewhere in the house mean something needs to be moved quickly. Therefore it is “HORSED UP THE STIRA”.

Meanwhile getting something out of the attic involves struggling to remember the sorting system. Most boxes are opened and a lot of strewing goes on to find the yoke that goes with the hoover that wasn’t supposed to be up there at all. Pretty soon the attic is as it was before.

It’s the purgatory for household objects. I imagine them talking to each other. “What are you in here for?” asks a straw hat. “Oh I’m a birthday card from 2007, I’ve been kept for sentimental reasons. I’m sure I’ll be taken out at regular intervals and fondly regarded.”

The birthday card seems blissfully unaware of the sniggering of the other old lags in the Stuff Prison under the roof. They’ve seen it all before. Lanyards from old festivals who thought they were a special memento of a rite of passage, cruelly slung out.

Do people in big houses have the same difficulty? I look at them with their kitchen islands and room for lamps with a bigger footprint than a dishwasher and wonder: what’s it like to have all that room? Or is house space like new roads? As soon as the space becomes available it gets clogged with traffic straight away. Human nature abhors a vacuum.

There is a dream to turn the attic into a sort of writing room. I’m already playing the montage in my head. In the writing montage, I walk around talking to myself in a glass atrium, and realise the plot twist that was staring me in the face.

Then I go and type faster than I’ve ever typed in my life. Whiplash-fast. My fingers bleeding as I hammer out important prose. The camera zooms in on me typing “This is my story. I am not afraid to tell it.” I press send and the next shot is me at the Sorbonne getting a standing ovation.

Writing nooks are all very well but you need planning permission to put in a glass atrium. You don’t see that in the biopic. A famous author filling out forms and arguing with a neighbour who’s “ONLY OBJECTING OUT OF PURE BADNESS I’D SAY”.

A famous author ringing up the council wondering if there’s any stir on that at all and finding a crucial person has taken a leave of absence but not thought to put on an Out of Office. And saying “Arrah shaggit” to himself and putting it in anyway and having to dismantle it when the local authority find out that a former corporation house now has a belfry.

For now the War on Stuff goes on.


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