When I saw a notice in the magazine, Womankind, to de-clutter my home and record my experiences day by day,
I responded that I actually liked my clutter, and I was prompted by the page administrator to “write about that instead”. As you may guess, I am no fan of minimalism. To me, minimalism is a kind of aesthetically-pleasing materialism.
There are two kinds of uncluttered homes. There are the ones that scream affluence, and the others, probably less likely to be viewed, that are the result of poverty or recent arrival in the country. I imagine the type of uncluttered-ness to which most readers aspire would be the former.
Yes, indeed, I have visited those homes once or twice in my life where the cavernous rooms are empty of clutter, the focus being an enormous Balinese warrior sculpture or a Ming vase on an antique coffee table. To me, there is a heartlessness and a ruthlessness in a home where the evidence of family life is hidden away. This kind of starkness is not simplicity. It is curatorship.
Then there are the less-known uncluttered houses, such as one I visited recently for dinner. The friends who invited me were newly-arrived professionals with two young children, and their possessions, compared with those of most Australian households, were few. The basic furniture was there, but there was nothing decorative, besides a picture of Jesus torn from a magazine and stuck to one wall. I do not think this is the type of de-cluttering that people imagine when they speak of de-cluttering, as the personal possessions were not hidden away in some cleverly designed cupboard, they merely did not exist.
I grew up in a family of six in the western suburbs of Sydney. That is, four kids and two parents. Our War Service fibro house had two small bedrooms and an unlined “sun room” the size of a single bed. Dad slept in the sun room, and Mum and I shared one of the front bedrooms. At first, for some years, we shared a double bed. Later, when I was a teenager, we had separate single beds. Because our toilet (dunny) was down the backyard, Mum always had a bucket under her bed. I hated the sound of her weeing in the middle of the night.
When I was about fourteen, I spent much time organising my only personal space, my Low Boy, which was where I kept everything I owned. I used an old wallpaper book and fashioned little shelves inside my cupboard, to form floppy shelves on which to might display some special things, like a tiny vase that I hand-painted with acrylic paint, and a tub of Pretty Peach Cream Perfume. Inside the door, I had a picture of Michael Cole (Mod Squad) which I had torn from a magazine, and which I kissed every night before bed.
I am not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me. Everybody in my town lived that way. In fact, compared to many of the kids I went to school with, we were quite middle class. However, we had barely any clutter because a) we didn’t own much, and b) we were discouraged very strongly from getting things out and making a mess. Parents did not encourage creativity. Painting and suchlike were reserved for school. Home was for keeping tidy, for polishing shoes, and for ironing tea towels. Oh, and for keeping every domestic unhappiness a secret from the rest of the world.
I did not ever have my own room until I was forty-six, and my marriage broke up. These days, I live in a tiny beachside ex-shack by myself. My paintings grace the walls of every room, books overflow the bookshelves, gardening apparatus sits side-by-side with home-grown tomatoes on the kitchen table. My home screams that someone with a LIFE lives here in my little cluttered haven. No, I won’t be de-cluttering. I will be too busy cre-ating and en-joying. And, what do I paint? Why, my clutter, of course!