We moved everything out of the alcove the other day, so that we could have some bright warm carpeting put down before winter sets in. The alcove is a funny little room off our bedroom--perhaps in the old days it was a sleeping porch, but when we bought the house the windows had been closed up, the walls had been covered with dark paneling, and the room had been turned into a closet.
We ripped out the paneling, installed big windows, and added electric heat. It's our winter porch now, a cozy west-facing place to read in the sunshine when the drifts are high and the wind is howling. But the floor was cold, and it needed carpeting.
So we moved everything out and, in the course of doing so, I decided, as I do every so often, that we have Too Much Stuff.
In the alcove:
A desk, once my dad's, left to me after his death. It's full of stuff, so I must need it, right? But I seldom sit at it (didn't even write my book at it) and we end up piling stuff on top of it. Doug hangs the hangers from his dry-cleaning from its drawer pulls until he can gather them up again and recycle them.
A tall bookcase, loaded with books, but also with candleholders and pretty little boxes and various ceramic or china figurines, all gifts over the years from people, many now dead.The prettiest box is wooden, with a carved rose and a sliding drawer. It was my grandmother's, and when she died it became my father's, and before he died he gave it to me. It's beautiful. There is really nowhere to put it. It sits on top of the bookcase in the alcove where nobody ever sees it, gathering dust.
Two plants, both from a funeral. A low table, with more books and more candles. A comfortable chair that rocks and creaks.
You get the idea.
So after we moved everything out (and cluttered up the rest of the upstairs by stashing it all here and there) my clutter-seeking eye turned to the rest of the house.
And what I saw was overwhelming. Most days you just live with the stuff, you look past it, you know it's there but it's just part of the atmosphere. But when you actually look at it, oh my. It makes me want to weep. I don't have a clue what to do with it--any of it! Every bit of surface area in the house has something on it. Every wall has pictures, every bookcase has stuff, even the floor is covered (with rugs and shoes and dog beds).
From where I sit right now, at the dining room table, this is what I see on the bookcase in front of me:
An unframed print from a friend, propped up against the wall
A small pottery plate, from another friend
A small flowerpot I bought the first time I went to Ireland (it's full of coins)
A Mason jar full of spare change
A delicate blue vase that belonged to a friend, now dead. In the vase is a dried sprig of seed pods from the golden rain tree that we planted on the occasion of my father's death.
A straw hat. (Doug's.)
A framed photograph of a grinning Boscoe that was in Doug's mother's apartment before she died.
A small ceramic thimble that had been my sister's when she was alive.
Hundreds of books.
Multiply all that by every bookcase in the house (I think there are 13) and every tabletop (five) and every bureau (two) and you have: a lot of stuff. Or, that is, we have a lot of stuff. Do you, too?
Are your lives awash in clutter? Cords from various electronic devices, slippery stacks of magazines, notebooks, rolls of tape, little figurines or sculptures or decorative boxes, framed pictures, earbuds, CDs, too many pens, small glass vases, tacking nails that you found on the floor and were afraid to throw away because they probably go to something, frayed extension cords, odd things from art fairs ...
I cannot blame everything on dead people, though I have a lot of dead people's stuff. And I cannot blame everything on gifts, even though a lot of the small pretty things were gifts. I am not sure who to blame--surely I didn't set out in life to acquire so much stuff. I can't remember the last time I bought anything that wasn't food or clothes or books (or rugs for Boscoe).
And yet--here it all is.
Many many years ago I visited my brother in Seattle and was taken by the way he lived. He was single then, and lived alone in a very small house--practically a shed--behind another house, off the alley. There were rose bushes in the yard, and inside his shed were the bare necessities: a narrow bed. A saggy couch, where he slept during my visit. A desk (possibly homemade; it might have been an old door laid across two sawhorses).
In his bathroom, his few necessities--toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo--were kept inside a plastic carrying case, as though he were ready to pick up and leave at a moment's notice.
He was working on his dissertation, and I think a map of the world was pinned to the wall above his desk. In the kitchen, he had a couple of plates, a couple of glasses, a couple of mugs. He brewed coffee a cup at a time, pouring boiling water through one of those plastic V-shaped coffeemakers that you bring with you when you go camping.
That was about it. The place was tiny and tidy and efficient. I loved it, loved the secret front door off the alley, and the blooming roses. When I stood at the tiny sink and washed my coffee cup and breakfast spoon, I could look out the window at all Seattle. This is a great way to live, I thought.
At one time, I lived that way, too. Owned almost nothing except books and clothes, and I remember one Thanksgiving when I moved from tiny furnished apartment to tiny furnished apartment I moved by myself, carrying my boxes down the snowy street.
How did I manage to acquire so much stuff since then? As I was rushing around madly on Sunday, trying to find things to throw away, my hand grabbed a small china vase that one of my sisters had given me for Christmas years ago. Doug stopped me. "It's small," he said. "It doesn't take up much space." And I set it down again.
Are you, too, awash in clutter? Does it bug you? Do you even notice it? What do you do about it? Or, if not, how do you avoid it?
Surely I am not the only one living practically and quite accidentally on the verge of hoarder-dom.