The reason why I have not been able to focus as closely as I wanted to on drafting posts for this blog recently is that we have been decluttering. Those, who have never tried to tackle on their own turf this particular challenge of our acquisitive society, may ask, ‘So what? That’s no big deal.’
‘Well, maybe not to a Feng Shui ascetic such as yourself,’ I would reply. ‘For most of us it’s a distracting head-banger.’
And that’s not just because of the heavy labour involved if we get as far as tackling what we have been hiding in our garage for over thirty years.
Oh, you thought garages were for parking cars overnight? If so, you must be one of the thirty or so people in this country who still does that. Maybe your car is so worth stealing that you have been prepared to sacrifice valuable storage space to protect it from the passing thief.
Anyway, back to the main point.
Yes, shifting unwanted sacks of concrete, piles of bricks, boxes of forgotten origin and even spare shelving with nothing on it, takes more energy than you think when there are such large quantities.
The really shattering part of the job though is in deciding what to chuck.
We do not pause to think how tiring making decisions is. It results in what Baumeister calls ego depletion, by which he means total fatigue of the self-control system. You end up not only being unable to think clearly, as well as short-tempered and impatient, but also completely unable to make another decision to save your life.
And decisions about clutter may not look like a matter of life and death, but they have a hidden burden that weighs very heavily on the mind.
It might seem wonderful if clutter worked the same way as neural pathways in the brain – if you don’t use them you lose them. If it were the same with clutter, anything we didn’t use would slowly disintegrate until not a trace of it was left. You’d be able to park your car in the garage all the time. How brilliant is that!
But there is a catch, and it is a big one. Unlike the brain’s pathways, a disused possession cannot be recreated relatively easily if it is suddenly needed again.
And how can I be sure I will never ever need this screwdriver, book, discarded kitchen cupboard or Hoover ever again? That’s where most of the energy goes.
And when it comes to books, arriving at a decision to discard is almost impossible! What bores me today often becomes the enthusiasm of tomorrow, of next month or even next year. In some cases it’s even been the next decade.
Still, at the end of summer, as autumn approaches, I can fairly say that much has been disposed of to the benefit of car boot sales and charity shops in many cases, but for the expansion of the local refuse dump in some others.
I must be careful not to buy back any of my books. No going near the Oxfam shop until they’ve had time to sell them.