Another ‘ism’ has joined the fray, or in this case, perhaps the frayed. It celebrates the normal, chaotic and cluttered way most of us live, writes
Another ‘ism’ has joined the fray, celebrating the normal, chaotic and cluttered way most of us live
Emlyn Rees and his wife Josie Lloyd will not be investing in an open plan kitchen extension. Nor will they be rationalising their wardrobes, digitally storing their music or replacing the paperbacks on their bookshelves with a curated arrangement of blue china owls. Their house, they’ve decided, is good enough as it is, even though the garden fends for itself and guinea pigs roam free in the laundry.
“We spend our lives being told to be better, be more perfect,” Rees says. “But aspiring to be shiny people in shiny houses is not an attainable goal — it’s not making us any happier. It’s putting us on edge.”
Shabbism, the lifestyle advocated in the couple’s new book, Shabby, is the antidote to hygge, the Scandinavian preoccupation with cashmere throws and log fires, and a reaction against the forced de-cluttering and rolling of clothes advocated by Marie Kondo in her bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s permission to be as you are: a celebration of the normal, chaotic and cluttered way that most of us live.
Shabbism can bring a greater sense of fulfilment and purpose, says Lloyd, while it also means less time spent tidying and fussing. “Let’s stop trying to pretend that we have pristine and immaculate homes,” she says. “They’re not shops. It doesn’t matter if there are crumbs on the kitchen table if it means you have time to enjoy a cup of coffee and a conversation.”
This is what we’re doing now, in the house where they live with their three daughters, Tallulah, 17, Roxie, 13, and Minty, 12. It’s a well-worn family home, which doubles up as their office — Rees and Lloyd are novelists who have teamed up on a number of parody books over the years, including We’re Going on a
Bar Hunt and The Very Hungover Caterpillar. Shabby was inspired by the bossy clean-living manuals and minimalist interiors books on our coffee tables that promote what they call a “shiny” lifestyle.
“We realised there is so much you can achieve in life if you lose shininess as an ideal,” says Lloyd, whose hair is growing back following treatment for breast cancer. “Shabbism is being comfortable in your skin, embracing the fact you’re going to get wrinkles and not looking in the mirror too much.”
She doesn’t blow-dry her hair in the morning and Rees’ glasses are coated in a film of dust, but shabbism is not, Lloyd points out, an excuse to be dirty. Or sloppy, lazy or unwholesome. “We tidy up after ourselves; we’re not scuzzy but neither do we bleach every surface every day. We live with a dog, we embrace germs and we are robust as a result.”
There comes a time, once every couple of weeks, when the whole family rushes around cleaning up. Rees refers to this watershed as “tipping over into crustiness”. “No one likes living in a pig-sty but we wait for that moment to occur rather than keeping on top of it all the time,” he says.
A quick tour of the Lloyd-Rees residence reveals a tidy but cluttered kitchen, with one of those miscellaneous drawers we all have bearing dispensers, string, old takeaway menus and loose batteries. Upstairs, cupboards groan with clothes and shoes and the beds are vaguely made, but there are no decorative cushions or headboards. The house is dry and warm but the carpets are fraying and damp bubbles through the paintwork in a couple of places. Outside there’s a half-deflated canoe and a garden shed that is not some swanky home office but storage for furniture, plant pots and disparate sports kit.
A shabbist’s goal, they explain in the book, is maximalism. “He or she seeks a life that is not empty, but splendidly cluttered and full.” It’s enough to give Marie Kondo kittens — she proposes keeping only those possessions that truly bring us joy — but Lloyd and Rees are