Empty nest? Not a chance

Saskia Sar­gin­son’s chil­dren are fill­ing the place with clut­ter. She begs them to stop, but it’s no use

The Guardian - Family - - Family life - Some names have been changed

Re­quir­ing a cup of cof­fee, I open the cupboard and con­tem­plate my choice of mug, quickly re­al­is­ing there is only one I am al­lowed to use. It is my least favourite. The one that reads, “Hello … Is it tea you’re look­ing for?”, with a pic­ture of Lionel Richie’s grin­ning face. I take it down with a grumpy sigh. The rest of the mugs on the shelf are beau­ti­ful things, but off lim­its be­cause they are the per­sonal prop­erty of my daugh­ters, and there­fore sa­cred ves­sels for their lips only.

I shout up the stairs to my off­spring. “I’m mak­ing a new rule,” I tell them. “You are only al­lowed two mugs or cups each in the kitchen cupboard. Oth­er­wise I can’t fit any of my own on the shelf and I never have any­thing nice to drink out of.”

They look aghast. “Can’t we have four each?” Lily asks.

“No.”

“Three?” Me­gan tries.

“Two!” I tell them. “You’ll have to keep the oth­ers in your rooms. You can ro­tate or some­thing.”

“But have you seen our rooms?” Lily wails.

I have. They look as if Aladdin and Fa­ther Christ­mas have been do­ing joint retail ther­apy. Me­gan’s re­sem­bles a tightly packed fur­ni­ture store­room. Lily has a thing for bed­spreads and an­tique quilts, but has a sin­gle bed; so she has hung cov­ers on her wall and wardrobe doors. It is claus­tro­pho­bic in the sum­mer, and a

year-round mag­net for dust. Then there are the cush­ions. Piles of them. Walk­ing across her room in bare feet is a de­light, each step a squidgy, soft ex­pe­ri­ence. But if you drop some­thing, you will never find it.

The girls, both in their mid-20s, are gripped by a ma­nia for house­hold pos­ses­sions, swoon­ing over rugs and mir­rors, elec­tric ket­tles and teapots. Bright, shiny new stuff keeps ap­pear­ing in our house. “Stop buy­ing things,”

I tell them. “We have nowhere to put it! Can’t you sell it, or give away some of this clut­ter?”

“It’s not clut­ter. It’s for our flat,” they protest.

“Which flat?”

“The one we’ll move into one day.” “Soon,” Lily says firmly.

They are at that age when a yearn­ing for one’s own place to fur­nish and dec­o­rate can take hold: a need to de­velop in­di­vid­ual taste, make a home. A nest­ing in­stinct. The prob­lem is that my adult chil­dren are still liv­ing with us, and their pos­ses­sions are spilling out of their bed­rooms. The clut­ter is mak­ing me itch. I con­tem­plate ring­ing stor­age units to get quotes.

Their brother Jake, whose room isn’t much big­ger than a broom cupboard, is also busy ac­quir­ing stuff for the flat he will one day move into. He is col­lect­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. He has al­ready crammed an elec­tric key­board and sev­eral gui­tars into his tiny space.

IThe drum kit is packed away be­hind the sofa. To draw the cur­tains, I must now climb on the back of the sofa and bal­ance pre­car­i­ously

reel back in hor­ror when he lugs a sec­ond­hand elec­tric drum kit into the kitchen. But he as­sures me that he can play it on “silent”, and per­suades me it will fit in the hall. He as­sem­bles the kit with ex­cite­ment. It com­pletely blocks the path to the stairs. We have to squeeze around it, kick­ing the kick drum, clat­ter­ing the hi-hat with our el­bows as we scram­ble past. At least, I re­as­sure my­self, it won’t be noisy when he plays.

At first I don’t un­der­stand what the weird thump­ing sound is re­ver­ber­at­ing through the floor. It turns out to be Jake’s “si­lenced” drum­sticks bash­ing away. The kit is banned. Jake won’t part with it, be­cause, of course, he will be able to use it in his hy­po­thet­i­cal flat, where his pre­sum­ably tol­er­ant new flat­mates won’t mind a bit.

It is packed away into the only space left in the house – be­hind the sofa pressed up against the floor-length cur­tains. “See – you won’t even know it’s there,” Jake says. He is right. Ex­cept for every time I draw the cur­tains, when I must climb on top of the sofa, bal­anc­ing pre­car­i­ously on the back in or­der to tug them across dusty snares of folded metal.

It oc­curs to me that when the kids do even­tu­ally move out, they will be tak­ing half the con­tents of the house with them. But I think Ed and I are ready to re­lease our in­ner min­i­mal­ists.

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