Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Praise of Clutter

American life has become sanitized. Antibacterial cleaning supplies--wipes, dish soap, hand soap...even toys. Super exhaust fans in kitchens so you cannot even smell dinner cooking. Air Fresheners plugged into every room so the whole house smells like lavender fields or citrus groves or Christmas... And then there are the anti-clutter fanatics who believe all signs of real life must be swept away into clearly labeled plastic bins.

Maybe it is because I grew up in a big, old, cluttered filled, rambling house—The first floor was just the kitchen and dining room with an ancient brick floor. A fire almost always going in the big fireplace at the far end of the dining room . The doors constantly opening and kids and neighbors pouring in to hang out by the draped on every chair...adults drinking coffee, talking and smoking...yes, smoking. It was a crowded, smoke filled life with the smell of fire wood, cigarettes, coffee and cooking... And there was always animal skeleton that was found in the woods was placed on the mantel because it looked so cool. Old etchings mixed with school projects mixed with found objects from the city...a gauge, old newspaper type, an old typewriter for kids to peck at etc.

Pottery barn, Target and other stores have trinkets you can buy to put on your shelves and coffee tables for display that look like travel souvenirs from another time. It is odd that you can buy clutter, but when you have collected things from your travels, from your life—it is viewed as clutter to be boxed away. Just like the removal of the real smells from our homes that are then replaced with fabricated scents from the store.

Sometimes I wonder how much of our real lives are being usurped by some pre-fabricated “ideal” life marketed to us by big industry. I wonder how many of our dreams and aspirations are placed in our heads by the media and this whole idea of clearing away our clutter is actually a way to clear away our authentic dreams for something pre-fabricated by Walmart or William Sonoma or whatever.

Why does everyone suddenly want granite countertops? Why does everyone need Viking stoves? Why does everyone need two bathrooms for every person in the house? Why have our dreams become material and not event driven? My dream is for myself and my family to live in Spain, Italy or France for year—not a large flat screen TV in every room. My dream is to have time to write, not time to clear away every little bit of my personality and put it in a plastic box in the attic. My dream is to walk along the beach with my daughter and collect shells—not buy her $100 Abercrombie t-shirts from the mall.

Are you living your dream or someone else’s?