Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hoard and lodging

Before my partner moved in, I was a champion hoarder. Every inch of storage space was consumed by the discarded and the decommissioned: junior school projects, my own magazine cuttings, concert programs, enough redundant electronics to restock Dixons, baseball caps, trade show passes, assorted pens, guitar parts, a veritable Russian doll of suitcases in every conceivable shape, size and configuration...the list, embarrassingly, goes on. It had to go.

Boxes that had moved from London to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to California, and California to Amsterdam before finding their final resting place in a now defunct former bathroom lay unopen, untouched, unbothered. Like that closing scene in an early X-Files episode, in which a potentially Earth-shattering dossier on alien abduction is unceremoniously buried in a cavernous government warehouse, stuff that had racked up more sea miles than Ellen Macarthur was doing nothing more than providing an extra layer of winter insulation.

Like a thrush bringing back increasing amounts of rubbish with which to line its abode, I'd become a hoarder, creating a human nest. I now discover that hoarding is on the list of recognised psychological disorders. Don't laugh, but hoarding impacts 4% of the population - folk who are unable to discard stuff, who can't stop acquiring it, make decisions about keeping it, or recognise its impact, especially on those who share the same living space. Scarier still, is that 'clinical hoarding' is an extreme of the condition, requiring counseling and medication, though presumably repeat prescriptions might not help the accrual of brown bottles.

In facing up to my own tendency to keep stuff long after it has exceeded its purpose or usefulness, I realise - without much need for an hour with Dr Freud - that my brand of hoarding is nothing more than emotional tethering. Sigmund and his tribe might say this symptomises unfulfilment or disillusionment, and maybe they'd be right. But at risk of applying Canute-like resistance to such couch trippery, I'd say that I was simply applying the addage of 'out of sight, out of mind': I moved in, found a home for a load of useless junk, and got on with my life without doing anything to jettison the material baggage that comes with not being more diligent about throwing crap out.

Even the most decluttered and simplified domestic goddess or god will acknowledge that most possessions carry emotional security. But there is a difference between a box of teenage love letters and having a drawer full of expired mobile phones which serve no purpose whatsoever. In my case, there were too many examples of possessions with no emotional or sentimental value at all. They had to go.

That process began a year ago, but there is still more to come, not just to reduce the clutter, but to embrace a simpler lifestyle. Call it cathartic, even call it a household colonic, but as I come to desire a cluuter-free domesticity, in a new dwelling without the nooks and crannies that swallow up the stuff you just don't need, it's time to reassess and revalue.

Some of it will disappear as fast as I can get it down the stairs and on to a better place (no, that won't mean landfill - I do have some environmental credentials to uphold you know); some will be the subject of personal turmoil and inner conflict; and some - I must warn the neighbours now - will be the source of heated argument (yes, Mr CD Collection, she's looking right at you...).

The truth is, tactile attachment not withstanding, much of the crap we line our homes with these days IS unnecessary. Soon, we will not need a collection of DVDs. That Apple TV box will become portal to the cloud that Blockbuster has disappeared into. Likewise, do I really need a thousand-plus CDs? You can hardly say that opening up a 12cm-square jewel case carries the same excitement us old heads used to derive from opening up that Hipgnosis-designed gatefold.

Yes, I did think that a wall of CDs indicated an erudite and groovy music fan, with eclectic taste and the odd surprise. But I'm not John Peel and, as impressive as his record collection was, with a house built into it, I'm sure that he rarely scratched the surface of most of it, albums by The Fall excepted. I'm now at peace with the notion of redigitised compressed music stored conveniently on a hard drive or a server somewhere; I'm even OK with sleeve notes accessible only by a mouse click (surpassing the frustrated fumbling of trying to extract a CD booklet from its jewel case).

Then, however, there are the books. Here I tread on sensitive soil, and with somewhat libricidal boots. There will be those, of a lofty and highbrow disposition, who consider books - the physical, bound encasement of the printed word - to hold intellectual sanctity; that to consider even giving up one book, which might at best provide toilet-side reading (where would the publishing industry be at Christmas without it?), would be to commit an act of terror on a par with the Nazi book-burning of 1933.

I admit to liking shelves laden with books and, unlike the digital music argument, I'm not yet ready to swap Waterstones 3-for-2 deals for an e-reader (well, maybe an iPad...). But I do think it's time that the read-once football biographies - replete with the now hardened sun tan lotion stains that date their single consumption - and other impulse buys need to wind up in the same proverbial skip as all the other clutter that really won't be needed in our clutter-free, spacious and open-plan next home. The one that won't scream "middle aged rock fan", "cod intellectual" or "unaware of the expression 'you can't take it with you when you're gone'".

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