ANNE GILDEA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - REAL LIFE - Anne.gildea@mailonsun­day.ie

The Ger­man Chan­cel­lor lands in Greece. ‘Name?’ asks the Greek im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer. ‘An­gela Merkel.’ ‘Na­tion­al­ity?’ ‘Ger­man.’ ‘Oc­cu­pa­tion?’ ‘No, I’m just here for a cou­ple of days.’ A joke a BBC ra­dio jour­nal­ist overheard in Athens, and the only nugget of the con­stant me­dia bar­rage about The Cri­sis I let seep in this week. Too much, all the time, la la la, let’s talk about some­thing else. An­other cri­sis: my clut­ter one.

Are you like me? You’d love to live in one of those in­te­ri­ors you see at the end of Chan­nel Four’s Grand Designs. The own­ers of the dream house show off the light-filled spa­cious­ness here, the gor­geous min­i­mal calm there, ne’er an iron­ing board heav­ing with creased clothes, nor a spat­ula out of place in the spank­ing new kitchen. But your re­al­ity is more like one of those Chan­nel Four doc­u­men­taries fea­tur­ing loons with prob­lems like their house be­ing so packed with back is­sues of Bunty, there’s no place left in their liv­ing space to stand, let alone ac­tu­ally live.

You know the way: it’s not that you’re a hoarder; it’s just that stuff ac­cu­mu­lates over time, and un­less you’re dili­gent about on­go­ing sort­ing and chuck­ing, you sud­denly find your­self in Cri­sis! I’m there. Ev­ery­thing needs sort­ing — creep­ing out­crop of books, catas­tro­phe of CDS, calamity of clothes, pa­per­work, tow­els, ap­pli­ances, shoes — STUFF. Ev­ery­thing seems to have co­a­lesced in a ca­coph­ony of STUFF scream­ing, ‘Sort Us!’

Then you’re on your knees start­ing to go through about 40 pairs of shoes, and you just kind of lose the will to live and have to stop. You find your­self think­ing, ‘I bet Madonna doesn’t waste time star­ing at an old pair of run­ning shoes, think­ing, “Is it time to chuck these? On the one hand, they were ex­tremely ex­pen­sive. On the other, that was 11 years ago and they smell weird.’ I in­voke Madonna as an epit­ome of ‘Suc­cess­ful Per­son’, I can’t imag­ine her wast­ing her suc­cess­ful lady time sort­ing her own stuff go­ing, ‘Pointy bras — haven’t worn for yonks. Bin!’ I as­pire to a level of suc­cess, there­fore I don’t tidy. That’s the logic. It’s the last to-do on the list, un­til it reaches this point.

Stuff has got to go, but what? The match­ing African masks that an ex got me in Ethiopia, or wher­ever? No, they re­mind me that some­one once thought enough of me to cart two big chunky wooden yokes all the way back to Ire­land from Ethiopia, or wher­ever. The lit­tle sou­venir wooden sake bowl I got at the cer­e­mony to mark the start of bor­ing the Dublin Port Tun­nel? Have to keep that: it’s a lit­tle bit of Ir­ish his­tory. What about what’s in it now? A ball of hair from a Sa­ha­ran camel I sat on once? Have to keep that: it’s a lit­tle bit of per­sonal his­tory. Three fail­ures to dump it al­ready, and that’s just the or­na­men­tal wooden and drom­e­dary-hair sec­tion — a tidy sub­cat­e­gory of the over­all hor­ror.

Kids. They give you per­spec­tive. I go round to my friend’s house: four-year-old twins, a six and a seven-year-old and an as­tro­nom­i­cal mass of toys, not least hun­dreds of biteens of new­fan­gled tiny Lego. She tries to tidy, at­tempts to sort, but ul­ti­mately, I see her method is ‘Chill out — the place is go­ing to be tee­ter­ing on a dis­as­ter zone for a decade — noth­ing I can do’. I leave her house in­spired; I too must chill about my am­bi­ent mess. But I don’t have four kids un­der eight. I have no ex­cuse.

Well, here’s one: there’s just too much stuff gen­er­ally. I’m re­minded of an Alexei Sayle short story I came across a while back. In it, aliens land on Earth. ‘We come in peace,’ they say. ‘We have gifts for you.’ And we, the hu­mans, say, ‘No! We have gifts for you!’ And there’s a log-jam of gift­giv­ing as the aliens at­tempt to off­load their over­load of Stuff on us and we, ours, on them. In fact that’s why they struck out across the uni­verse: to get rid of the ex­cess stuff that’s clog­ging their planet. It’s an in­ter­ga­lac­tic, univer­sal prob­lem with in­tel­li­gent life; ul­ti­mately there are too many knick-knacks in­volved. In terms of the ex­is­tence of our planet, it’s taken the blink of an eye for us to go from fash­ion­ing the odd flint ar­row­head to masspro­duc­ing tril­lions of thinga­ma­jigs, from sou­venir whoopee cush­ions to ipads.

And there can never be a ‘Stop, hang on, let’s see if we’ve got enough al­ready!’ mo­ment. Just gotta keep on chuck­ing… I’m throw­ing out shoes, while re­call­ing my mother men­tion­ing that as child she didn’t have shoes in sum­mer. I’m bin-bag­ging bad fash­ion buys think­ing of the sweat shops whence they came — what a cy­cle of waste: ex­ploita­tion­level labour, a cou­ple of wears, land­fill. I’m dump­ing the crazy ‘mas­sage pil­low’ I got given as a pro­mo­tional gift re­cently, an in­flat­able cush­ion with a bat­tery-op­er­ated vi­bra­tor thing in­side. I tried it once — it was like hav­ing a big blue­bot­tle un­der your back. Less ‘mas­sage’, more ‘sen­sa­tion of be­ing at­tacked by gi­ant fly’. Bin time for you!

My mi­nus­cule apart­ment will never be Grand Designs-wor­thy but at least a roll of bin bags and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­clare ‘rub­bish!’ can get this cri­sis un­der con­trol. And the on­go­ing big­ger one? La, la, la...

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