The Big Issue : Edition 476
THEBIGISSUE23JAN–5FEB2015 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH HOW TO STRADDLE THE LINE BETWEEN MEMORY AND MESS. Trash or the atmosphere out of the neighbourhood. Or even those kooky homes with 10m of floor space that cost $3000 to build, where you have to walk on the kitchen bench to get to your suspended futon and have NO WARDROBE. How can anyone live like that? Without books? Or racks of fascinating vintage clothes? Or old toys, diaries and your dead mother’s Royal Doulton tea service? I like the idea of downsizing. I get it. I’m enjoying chucking stuff out. Old papers, Christmas and birthday cards, things I’ve been hanging onto on the off-chance. Mugs...Jesus, so many mugs.** But objects are like planets – they exert an emotional pull that rivals gravity. I’m going through my mum’s stuff, and while it’s easy enough to chuck the blouses she bought years ago from Millers, I’m circling her yellow 1970s crimplene trouser suit like one of Jupiter’s moons. How many mementos are enough? I don’t know. My dad left boxes of specialist cookery books, which he’d read of an evening for fun. They’re under the house. Do I keep his tartan tie? My mum’s pig collection? Their passions, in the end, aren’t mine. But what’s the line between remembrance and clutter? I don’t know how much I need or even want, but it’s a tough call to consign your parents’ life to the tip. On the other hand, it makes it easier to cull my own crap. I know how it works after death, now. Unless you’re Andy Warhol or Shirley Bassey, everything you’ve ever owned is sold, donated or binned. No matter what my ego would like to think, my big box of show posters is headed to the tip, so I may as well do it now. No one else cares about my stuff, so why should I? So I’m downsizing. And you never know, I may just buy myself a white couch.*** *I bundled them with a rubber band. That’s a win. **Prince Harry’s a keeper. ***Never going to happen. DECLUTTERING IS TOUGHER than it looks. The bright, peppy people who write breezy ‘downsize your lifestyle’ blogs obviously live in open plan, polished floorboard apartments with nothing but a reclaimed timber trestle and a white couch splashed with $300 cushions. They declutter by discarding last year’s yoga pants. I, however, who live in a rambling share house with a lifetime of accreted belongings, just spent 20 minutes staring indecisively at a handful of dusty, hardly used eye pencils. I don’t much wear make-up, which is why they’re hardly used. But they’re in good nick, so it’s a shame to throw them out. But I don’t really need them because I don’t wear much make-up. So I should throw them out. But they’re hardly used, so it’s a waste to chuck them. But I don’t wear much make-up. And if the cat hadn’t jumped on the bed I’d be sitting there still, caught in the tractor beam of circular logic.* It’s not that I’m a hoarder. While my home does harbour several thousand books, many vinyl records and hilarious items such as the bottle of ‘Wanker’ brand beer I picked up in New York in the 1990s, you don’t need to negotiate your way through a maze of stacked newspapers and Star Wars figurines in original packaging to locate the kettle. I just have some stuff, okay? I know that our entire culture is diseased with consumerism. I’ve banned myself from Ikea because it dilates time and gives me the willies. Also, most items we buy new are a) intended to last three years tops, and b) made by mostly non-white people who are essentially indentured slaves in other countries. All excellent points. But, lord, I still love my stuff. Most of my favourite things – be they a Rolf Harris album called My Electric Finger, or an electric pink velvet dress coat – I got from op shops or second hand. I get whiplash passing piles of kerb rubbish. To be honest, the majority of things I own are due to other people’s efforts to declutter. My house is a highly curated museum of kitsch, unfortunate cultural accidents and, thanks to Mum’s obsession with royalty, a mug commemorating Prince Harry’s 18th birthday. I am bewildered by people who live in those shiny, tiny, apartments that are springing up all over, throttling » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman. Treasure?