In defence of clutter: the medium is the mess

The new buzzword is ‘de-clutter’ and the popular question is: ‘Does it spark joy?’ Suddenly, everyone around is busy folding clothes rather than hanging them, hugging furniture to see if they get ‘sparks of joy’ and getting rid of things that don’t.

I blame television, and a new serial based on a book by the Japanese ‘organising consultant’ Marie Kondo (we must remember more people don’t read books than don’t watch television). I now plan to get rid of my television because it is not sparking any joy in me.

Kondo is a modern-day Stalin, encouraging people to purge their homes of once-beloved things.

Keep just 30 books, she says (she later recanted). Hug each one in turn, and if you get no spark of joy, then chuck it. Possessions have feelings, she suggests, forgetting that possessors have feelings too.

Yesterday, I hid behind my sofa when I saw my wife approaching with outstretched arms. What if I didn’t spark joy? Would I be de-cluttered out of the house? But I need not have worried; she was merely drying her nail polish.

What is wrong with cluttering, I ask you? I grew up being reminded constantly about a place for everything and everything in its place. Nothing irritates an eight-year-old more than having platitudes thrown at him by adults. I was told a cluttered desk indicated a cluttered mind. “But I like a cluttered mind,” I would respond, adding, “what does an empty desk say about your mind then?” and be sent to bed without supper.

I have not had any reason to change my (cluttered) mind since. More is more is my philosophy. Both in my room and in my mind which is full of tidbits of useless information, of half-composed poems, of barely-remembered equations, of impractical ideas of bridge-building and more. The clutteratti have existed for longer than the minimalists; it is unlikely Plato had a clean desk or a mind so fine that no idea could violate it, as Eliot said in another context.

“I don’t know if the sun rises in the east,” Sherlock Holmes once told Dr. Watson, “But it doesn’t matter because I can always look that up. I know what I need to know.” Thus, he knew 140 different varieties of tobacco ash. I, on the other hand, am happy to carry around in my head what I don’t need to know. For example, that crocodiles can’t stick their tongues out, or that Tom Sawyer was the first novel written on a typewriter. Stuff I couldn’t have known if I had an uncluttered mind.

Once in a while my cluttered room gets cleaned and organised, and I can’t find anything I am looking for. Only the clutterer knows where everything is. Or if he doesn’t, only the cluterrer can, when searching for something, find something else. As the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips said, this may be the only way to find something else.

I hug my clutter, it gives me huge sparks of joy.

Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 12:52:29 PM |

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