The Big Issue : Edition 506
culture police Fiona Scott-Norman THEBIGISSUE4–17MAR2016 29 ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH BEING TIDY MAY BE THE KEY TO INNER PEACE, BUT IS IT GOOD FOR CREATIVITY? Tidy Town Some of us, I suspect, need to hold on to things so everyone else doesn’t have to. To me, the flip side to culling is the thrill of the hunt. Old books with ill-advised titles (Forester’s Fag and Bomba the Jungle Boy Among The Slaves), jostle for attention at my place with a weathered ventriloquist’s dummy, Mum’s ashes, a Young Talent Time T-shirt and a handkerchief Engelbert Humperdinck once threw my way at a concert. I have an orange shag pile carpet, a bottle of “Wanker” brand beer I picked up in New York 20 years ago and a mouth organ partially destroyed with a chainsaw by Joe Dolce at a gig. The entire house is a conversation piece. That’s just as valuable as a house with nothing in it except a white couch and an air of calm. Extreme culling isn’t for everybody. Some corporations, such as IBM, have a best practice “clean desk” policy – where anything left sitting on desks at the end of the day would be thrown out by cleaning staff – to enhance productivity. Freaks. Me. Out. I don’t want to pack up at the end of every day, put my personal effects in a drawer and leave it looking unlived in. I like leaving my half- finished projects, my piles of paperwork, my mess, lying around. I know where everything is. One woman’s clutter is another woman’s process. Kondo says, “When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.” I’d say, when you’re surrounded by the politically incorrect ephemera of centuries of white male privilege, including a “Sambo” target game from the 1950s, you never run out of ideas. The American Psychological Association website references a 2013 research paper from Psychological Science, which found that working in a tidy room “encourages people to do socially responsible, normatively ‘good’ things like eat healthfully and give to charity. But working in a messy room seems to help them try new things and come up with creative ideas.” Boom. In your face, Marie Kondo. Tidy that! AS A YOUNGSTER, I was regularly told to “stop cluttering up the place”. Not in terms of strewing possessions around willy-nilly, although lord knows that 10 minutes after I enter a room it looks like Officeworks after a tornado, but in reference to my shy habit of hovering on the outskirts of conversation. I was tall, I was nervous, I loomed, I was – to throw in another choice phrase from Mum and Dad’s parenting handbook – “making the place look untidy”. To this day, clutter has a bad name. “Cluttered” is never a compliment. Decluttering, in fact, is the new Paleo. People are swearing by Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which says that every object you own should “spark joy”, and there are innumerable anti- consumerism bestsellers that all embroider around the “How To Get Rid Of Your Stuff” theme. You’d think there would be greater need for a contact number for skip hire than a philosophy manual, but there you go. Minimalism is a spiritual practice. One immersion writer, Dave Bruno, wrote The 100 Thing Challenge, describing how he lived for a year with fewer than 100 possessions. I have more than 100 things on my desk. No matter who you read, the message is clear. We have too much stuff, and stuff is bad. Every surface must be clear, every memento gone, every sock drawer sorted, every photograph scanned, your three remaining beige coordinates rolled tight as the Dead Sea Scrolls, not a hair out of place. In fact, screw it, shave your head and be done with it. Downsize, clear out, chuck it, sell it, go go go. I have...reservations about the decluttering juggernaut. The plus side, of course, is that if everyone else is decluttering there are more treasures left on the verge for me. I can absolutely see the benefits to simplifying life and owning only one juicer. But my stuff is an extension of me. It’s good to cull, but a house without a couple of thousand books just isn’t a home. I also have half as many records, and an instinctive concern about prioritising efficiency and emptiness over curation and history. If it weren’t for all my stuff, I wouldn’t have had a radio show and two solo comedy shows about bad music, and been able to pull a sequinned snakeskin jumpsuit from the back of my cupboard at a moment’s notice to MC a Bowie tribute night. » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.