A COLD wind is sweeping through the house. But it doesn’t originate from any point on the map, unless there is a cardinal direction on the compass called ‘CHANGE’. Yes, a howling Change-rly gale is whirling, leaving a trail of neatness in its wake.
We are decluttering and nothing is safe. It was triggered before Christmas. We had some people over. Nothing too big or fancy, just good company, sparkling conversation about changing the world, and eating Aldi’s kettle-cooked crisps (emptied into a bowl, not from a packet). We had to do a bit of a tidy, because people at gatherings, as is their wont, like to sit down.
The tidy you do before visitors is the shortest-termist one you’ll ever do. We just moved all the shite upstairs. There was no time to consider whether a piece of metal with a screw hanging out of it, or one lone wellington-sock, deserved to have a place in our house. For now, they were shunted to another place to await trial. No visitor was to be allowed upstairs, unless it was absolutely necessary.
Now, though, with the spotlight of the world elsewhere, it’s time to declutter. Concurrently, there has arrived into the house a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. Its author, Marie Kondo, is a Japanese woman who, from an early age, has been fascinated with tidying. Now she is a New York Times bestselling author and a tidying consultant. Kondo had an epiphany one day. She had been obsessing about what to throw away and, after a quasi-mystical experience — we’ve all had those when tidying, especially under the stairs — she realised that she had been thinking the wrong way about tidying. Instead of throwing out things you don’t want, retain things that make you happy. She advises you to hold up the object and ask yourself: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If not, it needs to be discarded, but you should still thank the object for its service. This explains why on New Year’s Eve I had a difficult conversation with an underpants whose elastic had gone.
Kondo’s anthropomorphising of objects does not seem strange to me. The house is full of loyal and trusted buckets, shelves, screwdrivers and rice cookers. I’ve experienced object-death heartbreak. We were in Vienna once, on holiday, and a loyal pair of shoes belonging to my wife finally gave up the ghost. After purchasing replacements, we left the poor incumbents in a bin near the Hofburg Palace. I could hardly look back at the bin. I pictured the shoes inside there and imagined their conversation, them wondering when we were coming back.
“Where are they gone? wonders Lefty.
“I expect this is all a mistake. They wouldn’t do that to us. Leave us here, in a foreign bin,” reassures Righty. But as darkness falls, they realise the awful truth and ... “I feel bad enough as it is. Stop with the shoe-dramatising Colm,” said my wife (or words to that effect).
This decluttering exercise has not been as emotional. We’ve said goodbye to lots of loyal objects, dared not look some wrong purchases in the eye. But we’re not finished decluttering. The attic is hanging over us, metaphorically and physically — there are rumours it may contain mythical and awful creatures, like the course notes for a one-day Powerpoint training-session, the box for the gas boiler and a left-over length of plastic pipe I kept — just in case it came in handy. But, hopefully, also we’ll find the other wellington-sock.
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