An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 45: The Pornography of Orderliness.

Brace yourself, reader. It’s a minimalism post! Contains tortuous detail. Only suitable for consumers of the pornography of orderliness.

case

Last week saw a trip to my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, to declare war on my remaining dark matter, by which I mean “estranged and hidden possessions I’ve been disingenuously ignoring and discounting from my claim to be a perfect minimalist”.

Dark matter is like dental plaque. Both are tedious accumulations of barely-noticeable debris yet they periodically require you to take drastic action. If you don’t take action, your teeth fall out. I refuse to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with this metaphor.

I’ve wanted to take care of this stuff (to dispose of it or incorporate it into real life) for a long time, but things like the Atlantic Ocean kept kept getting in the way. I’m back in the UK now though, so I can finally act on my little fantasy. Imagine! Every last one of your personal possessions accounted for, collected, ordered and treasured in a single place: the very place you sleep.

The plan was to tackle this once and for all in a single KonMari-style blitz. I’d sort though it, one item at at time, deciding what to jettison and what to bring home. What’s more, the fact I was travelling by rail with one suitcase imposed a limit on what I could keep.

I didn’t know how much I’d want to bring back, but I wanted to be able to fill the case to capacity, so I packed little else. It was fun to carry the large but empty case through a crowded Central Station, effortlessly holding it aloft like Desperate Dan hefting a fridge.

On the train, I was dying for someone, ideally a staunch security official, to ask to look inside the huge case so I could reveal its unlikely contents: a pair of underpants and a toothbrush.

When I got to the house, I assessed the scale of the project. It wasn’t too bad. There was a large bookcase replete with books (which I’d been anticipating) and four desk drawers of general equipment and keepsakes (about which I’d forgotten).

I spent some quality time going through the keepsakes and discarding old letters and photographs in a fashion non-minimalists would probably find callous. I enjoyed re-reading them and recalling the past, but it’s time to move on. I’m not in touch with any of those people now and I want to give my whole heart to the people I know today.

Even so, I’m not completely without sentiment. I felt funny condemning such items intact to the recycling bin. I didn’t want workers at the recycling plant handling my letters however briefly and maybe catching a glimpse of their content. I don’t know why I felt this way, but I think that letters should be either kept and treasured or responsibly destroyed by their intended recipient, so I spent ages reading over the doomed correspondence and tearing it up into the bin.

There were miscellaneous bits of kit in the desk drawers–pencil sharpeners, hole punches, staplers–I couldn’t be arsed finding new homes for, so I binned them too. With one exception, I followed Mari Kondo’s advice about not allowing relatives to see what’s being discarded lest they want to salvage any, allowing it to clutter their own drawers.

The exception was a Swiss Army Knife, which I offered to my Dad. “Can’t you find a place for it?” he asked, simply not understanding why anyone would want to dispose of a Swiss Army Knife. “No,” I said, and explained why. It’d been in that drawer, untouched for over ten years. If I kept it, the same would happen again. What’s more, there were many other neglected items along the lines of the Swiss Army Knife so the problem was bigger than it looked. Dad looked at me like I was bonkers and accepted the “gift” but I’ve a bad feeling that it’ll spend another decade in pointless neglect.

Annoyingly, putting out the garbage on my parents’ street comes with a lot of rules. You can only, for instance, put out a single bin per week. What doesn’t fit in the wheelie bin on trash collection day can’t be disposed of until next time. But what if you have a clear-out like the one I was having today? Too bad. Surely this can only lead to constipated houses. Since my parents’ bin was already almost full, my bag of disposed-of stuff had to sit in the driveway for a week until finally going today. Not ideal for a minimalist cleansing ritual.

With the books, I was ruthless. Over two thirds of my library went to charity shops. They’re good books, but not ones I’d ever read again (or in some cases, ever read), largely left over from my intense-young-man period and not relevant to my life today. Who in adulthood can be arsed with Camus?

Still, there were quite a few books I didn’t want to part with: volumes that either hold too much sentimental value, or books I know Samara and I will enjoy. I hadn’t predicted this. I filled the suitcase and then some. In the end, I put aside twice as many keepsies as I could comfortably bring back on the train.

I broke my self-imposed “one blitz” rule and postponed the realization of my orderly, minimalist Valhalla. Yes, folks, there remains at my parents’ house one last box of books, requiring a second trip to retrieve.

This is a bugger actually, as I was hoping to jettison the suitcase itself upon my return, but instead it will have to sit in the top of my wardrobe, taking up valuable oxygen space, until I can do another trip like this one. But at least this provides another opportunity to show my underpants to a security official.

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About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

6 Responses to “An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 45: The Pornography of Orderliness.”

  1. Spoonman says:

    I love minimalist Pr0n! This post really hit the spot.

    I went through a similar exercise six months ago when we moved out of the Pacific Northwest to live in Montreal. We reduced our dark matter balance to zero, but it was at times a painful experience. For me, the hardest part was definitely getting rid of old letters and photos. I was teary eyed for a couple of hours as I binned ancient stuff, including an old letter I wrote to myself back in 1994 telling me to always “keep my chin up” (it was part of a school project). I took solace in the fact that a lot of the things I threw away I was able to digitize and store in the cloud.

    But at the end of the day I think it’s a worthwhile exercise because I feel a certain sense of closure. I feel much more nimble, but more importantly that stuff is no longer cluttering my mind.

    The interesting thing is that some of the things we have with us still feel…heavy. I’m going to get rid of a few more items before our next jump.

  2. Much better without it, I think. And I can’t wait to have every last thing present and correct. How’s Montreal treating you?

  3. Spoonman says:

    We are in Paris now, but Montreal treated us very well for 4 months. We very much enjoyed all the festivals and cool activities. I hope to return someday!

    I think Montreal is one of the top cities in the world. If the winters weren’t so brutal I would probably be tempted to settle down there.

  4. Yeah, the winters fairly suck. So brutal. But it’s probably one of the factors making the city so cheap to live in and the summer activities so vibrant. My favourite time of year there is probably the fall (around about now) actually.

  5. David says:

    A friend advised me to take a photo of any letters or other items with sentimental value before disposing of them. I guess that breaks the dark matter rules, but it does at least mean you can get rid of anything and know you won’t regret it.

  6. Yep, it’s no bad idea if you main aim is mobility. There’s no physical weight to digital after all. To me though, it’s about fresh starts and not carrying around too many vestiges of the past: if digital, you’ll still have the psychological baggage if not the physical. I’m not without sentiment though: I do still have some physical letters and diaries that survived the cull. I also find the physicality of these items important: I’m not sure a digital version would scratch the same itch. If feeling sentimental, I want to see my friends’ actual handwriting, not a picture of scan of it.

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