We spend our whole lives accumulating stuff. It gathers in corners, under beds, on the tops of wardrobes. We don’t know where it comes from, and haven’t the faintest idea what to do with it. We just can’t let it go.
Parents start buying stuff for their babies before they’re born. That little white teddy propped in the cot, and the red plastic rattle on the change table – we make sure our offspring arrive in the world with possessions, even if we don’t have the remotest idea of their taste in plush animals. Does it shape their attitude from the beginning? Was it suppressed anger on seeing that pristine white teddy which caused Rocco’s crib-rage? If he’d been given the spiky black gorilla his heart craved, it is entirely possible he would have been a different type of animal altogether.
There are businesses these days called Clutterbusters, the staff of which will come to your home and throw out the stuff you can’t bear to get rid of. They are brutal and unsentimental, and able to stuff 40 years’ worth of Aunty Valmai’s birthday greetings into the incinerator without batting an eyelid. It is best you go out for the day whilst they are doing their thing, so you’re not tempted to trot all your crap back inside again the minute their backs are turned.
At our place, we need Pantrybusters. There are items in the back of that cupboard which haven’t been manufactured for the past 20 years, or even been seen by human eyes. There are noises coming out of there which food isn’t supposed to make. Sometimes you might catch random glimpses of strange feathers and mysterious bits of fur. There is a whole other world behind those defunct cereal boxes – only the bravest housewives would go there.
In the same vein, there is a definite role for Schoolbagbusters. Most mothers are too frightened to put their hand in to retrieve this week’s school bulletin. They will never know they were supposed to send in a lamb costume for the play on Friday. They will never know their presence was requested for canteen duty. They are only aware of the truth – there are undocumented things which can happen to you if you come into contact with uneaten devon and banana sandwiches. The effect is amplified if the sandwiches have been in existence for more than several months. There is no antidote for Jurassic Lunch Attack – the only prevention is not going there in the first place. Similarly, there are horrible things under beds. Some of them are on missing person lists. Sticking your vacuum cleaner underneath is an act of faith, bearing in mind there is always the possibility it will not come out again.
Regarding the common and garden shed, there is not much point in the first place. Sending Clutterbusters into your man’s garage is not worth the phone call. Torch it instead. There is nothing in there you could possibly want, unless you are a man yourself.
The trouble with having all this stuff is the way it ties you down. You can’t move house because you can’t be bothered sorting out the junk. You’re too frightened to die because you don’t know what your living relatives might find. Besides, it’s your history. Without it, you might never have existed in the first place. Life is a long journey during which you gather moss. Throwing it away would be like ripping pages out of your life story before you’d got to the ending.
I once read about a man who didn’t have any family of his own. He went to junk shops and garage sales, and bought photographs of people he thought looked interesting. A mother, a father – brothers and sisters. A ready made family. If you don’t have your own junk, someone else’s will do. Even bag ladies have shopping trolleys full of discarded polystyrene coffee cups and left-footed sandals.
Streamline your life today – clean out your handbag! I’ve been having a good fumble around inside mine, and darned if there aren’t handfuls of strange feathers and peculiar bits of fur. Plus something threatening and clammy which is stuck between my fingers and doesn’t seem to want to come off …
And nobody hears me when I scream.