People that know me (and have been to my apartment) are always encouraging me to record and watch a few episodes of “Hoarders“. This is not because I am messy and accumulate things, but because I probably represent as close to the complete opposite of a hoarding mentality as is possible while still having clothes on my back and a bed to sleep in. I come from a long line of obsessively clean people on my mother’s side, so my behavior is not without precedent. My mother is constantly cleaning, and can’t countenance the slightest blemish on any surface. She seems to be “spring cleaning” at intervals much smaller than the actual season, constantly cleaning out “the mess”. Her mother (my grandmother) used to constantly clean her house and although an avid smoker, would walk around her place ashing into her own hand rather than sully an ashtray. Over the years of traveling and moving I have done, I have found it much easier and less stressful to travel lightly. Add to that my increasing dismay at the excesses of consumer culture, and you have a recipe for minimalism in my life. I find a clean, uncluttered space is the most conducive to my work and life, and puts me at ease emotionally and intellectually. A few days ago, I watched a couple of episodes of “Hoarders” and was quite shocked, but morbidly curious at the same time. Dead animals, feces all around, rooms too stuffed with trash to move through — unbelievable. How do people live in that? Even the cleanest ones had piles and piles of cardboard, magazines, stuffed animals and such literally packed tightly from floor to ceiling. My rule for things in my life is pretty simple: If I haven’t used it in a year, out it goes (to friends if they want it, to the secondhand store if still usable, to recycling if possible).
Which brings me to something disturbing I witnessed when back in the midwest a couple of weeks ago. I was staying at my brother’s house (he seems to have handily escaped the non-clutter gene) watching my niece and nephew for the weekend while my brother and sister-in-law were out of town. At one point we decided to go out to the park in the neighborhood, and my nephew asked if he could bring his new skateboard. Trying to be the responsible substitute parent, I asked if he had protective gear to go with it. He replied that yes he did, and off he went to find it. After about 10 minutes he came back down and said he couldn’t find his helmet, and thought it might be in the garage, so we went to look for it. We went inside and it was like a mini hoarders episode, with boxes of stuff everywhere. I asked my nephew what all of this was, and he told me it was “old stuff they don’t use”. My brother’s family is typical of many somewhat affluent American households. I don’t believe my brother’s family consume typically much more than most, but that is the problem. The averages in this country are obscene. I looked around the garage at the boxes of consumer goods, hardly touched, but just sitting there in storage/trash, and asked myself: for what purpose? We live in a culture that is at its root disposable, and until we deal honestly with our consumptive habits, I don’t hold out great hope for saving the planet. Our entire culture is built on a foundation of waste and planned obsolescence. Where do all the old bats, balls, helmets, dollhouses, game consoles, furniture, clothes, etc –to say nothing of the packaging — go to? Why don’t we care?