Thursday, 19 March 2009

Anti-Clutter is Anti-Southern

(Clutter is such an unpleasant sight that I will spare you any illustration of it.)

With spring around the corner, there is one thing on my mind: A clean, fresh house.

I am convinced that an orderly home ushers in new ways of thinking and inspires healthy living. Several years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James. In addition to whittling your wardrobe down to a palette of three colors and limiting lunch dates, she stresses keeping a clutter-free house.

Clutter is an interesting word. It's from the Middle English word cloteren which mean "to clot" and its modern usage suggests a state of confusion. The word is often used to convey a state of mind or the condition of a place -- usually the home.

In an effort to avoid clogged -- or clotted -- arteries, we limit the amount of bacon and butter we consume, but yet we don't limit the amount of stuff we put in our homes. In doing so, we thwart the creative process. (Anyone who has ever tried to write at a cluttered desk will understand.) For some, the problem stems from anxiety of parting with the past, but for most of us, it's simply laziness. While there are organizations to help the extreme cases of clutterers (check out Clutters Anonymous), the majority of us just need to get out of in front of the TV or stop procrastinating, or both.

In the South, people have a lot of stuff. Several houses come to mind, and in fact, when the New York Times wrote about one particular southern family, the description of their home is not without the reference to the amount of stuff on their walls, shelves, tables, etc:

If there were a publication called Southern Home and Book, the _______ place would be the editorial template. There’s a big wrap-around porch typical of antebellum manors, and the downstairs hall is given over to floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The d├ęcor exhibits the eccentricity and faded gentility Northerners associate with Southerners; in the parlor, which Ms. _______ calls the “critter room” because of animal-related objects like an armadillo basket and a stuffed bobcat, stands a wobbly-sounding piano, topped by a toy talking monkey.

I think the difference between what these people do -- namely, displaying their collections -- is different than someone keeping every issue of the New Yorker since 1980. (I know someone who does that too.) When a collection no longer has meaning, if it becomes so covered in dust that we can only make out its silhouette, it's time to reconsider the objects in our home. We must ask ourselves if we are we defining them or if they are defining us?

This weekend, in honor of spring, pick a room -- or start small with a closet -- and begin unclogging the arteries of your home.

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