January is the time I declutter my office. Well I try anyway. I never quite get pared back to where I think I should be because I get distracted or my initial resolve fades and the ‘definitely discard’ pile gets iterated into a ‘maybe I will need one day’ pile. At home I’m a little less dedicated. Decluttering or life-editing is something I’ve strongly resisted on the domestic front. I’m a hoarder by nature (I think a lot of men are). We are hunters and collectors after all and I think I’m endowed pretty heavily with the gather gene. So I have developed a new word – ‘moarder’ meaning man-hoarder because, let’s face it, we do that best – just check our sheds out.
But a couple of things happened over the break that have made me rethink (at least) my approach to my hoarding. Firstly I was in Trade Secrets (a discount shop) with my wife who was returning an item. She is the pantheon of the declutter class by the way. Whilst waiting for her I did a browse and found to my apparent delight some discounted Reidel Pinot Noir glasses. For those who don’t know, Reidel is an Austrian glass company renowned for their wine glasses particularly a different shaped glass for each major wine variety. I had to have them and was delighted to get them home. Then the ‘road to Damascus’ moment. In order to put them in the wine glass cupboard I had to remove some other, quite adequate by the look of it, wine glasses. Not sure how much they cost but they are now being recycled presumably somewhere in Queensland. I clearly didn’t need new glassware and this thought sprung to mind. But then again, drinking out of the fit for purpose glasses when I quaff my Pinot Noir is a little luxury that I can afford and ‘why not’ was my defence response. Then my second ‘Damascus’ moment. I don’t drink Pinot Noir, nor any other red wine for that matter and barely ever white wine. For some reason my deeply seated ‘need’ for these glasses overrode my common sense. In neuroscience terms that is possibly mimetic desire. I wanted the glasses because somewhere along the way I have likely seen someone else with them. In sociological terms it is the paradox of affluence. From a philosophical perspective Aristotle wrote. ‘It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied and most men only live for the gratification of it.’
Then I sat to watch Netflix, without any alcoholic accompaniment I have to say. I surfed what was on and saw that Netflix, rather obtusely or quite spookily (you choose), had recommended me a doco called The Minimalists about the need to declutter and downsize our lives. Wow it made sense. It was hard viewing though given I have a ‘collection’ of newspapers in the garage from some of the key moments in history, most of which I have never re-visited. That got me thinking as to why we collect and how much this fascination with stuff detracts from the simplicity of life and being in the now. This applies equally I think to both home and work.
Architecture has assisted us of a hoarding bent there is no doubt. As our McMansions have increased in size so has the much-needed storage space to fill with our stuff. Watch ‘The Block’ and the contestants who build in more storage than the other contestants seem to get more points. Every room in the house seems to have got bigger which means you can now no longer just relax on the couch because the couch is a behemoth capable of seating a small politburo. It is so vast it looks like a wasteland without the requisite cushions which have to be aligned – just so- to create the right balance of colour interplay and pleasing but not matching patterns. In my Mum’s day, that cushion would have to last many years and it would. Nowadays it’s lucky to last a season as we have introduced the notion of ‘fashion’ to lots of stuff outside just clothing. If that is ‘last year’s colours’ it has to go. The quality of build nowadays is so good we don’t keep hold of something until its broken, we let it go (or to the spare bedroom in my case) when a more fashionable or feature-laden model gets released. For the likes of me this puts me further into the hoarder spiral. Fashionable shapes and colours have been introduced to toasters, kettles, mixers you name it. This doesn’t only permeate our home lives it has leeched into work as well. Any trip around Ikea or Office Works will bear out the fact that folders, in trays, pen holders etc. now come in a range of fancy colours; bright and bold one year, muted and pastel the next.
The office environment has much to make up in this regard fortunately. Conversely the world of work is much more advanced in downsizing. This hasn’t come about as a result of a minimalist or life-editing mindset, but rather costs. The days of the big offices for senior and middle management are now long gone. We laud the funky shared spaces in modern office buildings but who are we kidding? It’s driven by cost per square metre and not about food for the soul. It’s hard to create a sense of belonging in a corporate setting when you can sit somewhere where your sense of connection to that place lasts as long as your shift, especially if you are late for work next day. The magnetic board for a temporary placement of family or pet photo to try and personalise it doesn’t really cut it. That’s what our PC/laptop desktops are for. That’s what the pastel range of storage accessories at Office Works are for, except they all look the same.
Since the advent of the ‘way to work coffee’- delivered the form of a paper cup – even coffee/tea mugs, once highly individualized in their day, seem to have disappeared from the office altogether. They used to be a sure-fire way of summing up new work colleagues – just looking at what their treasured coffee mug spoke in large measure about what sort of person they were. A porcelain meme! Nowadays it can take much longer to know your fellow employees because you are seldom located in the same place twice.
So, on balance, I would recommend we de-clutter our domestic lives of things and downsize as much as we can, but upsize on time spent with friends and family, hobbies and being with ourselves in the moment. On the work front we should downsize from our engagement with 24/7 email and the work server. In terms of space and stuff I think there is an argument for some sensible upsizing and for a few more personal ‘things’ around us. There are those in my office reading this who will go ‘…how convenient. His wife thinks he’s thrown stuff out and he’s just brought it into work!’ That’s true I did bring some unwanted red wine in to share with the team. Now where are those Pinot Noir glasses when I need them?