Joyless Stuff


One of the many gifts of the internet is the constant stream of new crazes that make their way into our homes, whether it be through news or social media. Pretty much every day there’s something you can join in. Yesterday I saw “extreme phone pinching” – people posting photos of themselves holding their phones between thumb and forefinger over places that it would be highly inadvisable to drop a phone. Like a deep hole. Or a toilet. The risk/reward quotient of this seems a little out of balance – loss of a phone that seems to be (at least for these people) a gateway to their whole sense of self-worth, versus a photo that someone might “like” tomorrow. It’s beyond stupid, and one can only anticipate the evolution of this fad, until we get a new series of “my penis dangling over the spinning blades of the blender” photos.

Some crazes, however, are more durable, providing far greater opportunity for the participant to spend money and waste time, while endlessly immersing themselves in social media contacts with like-minded devotees. Decluttering is one such activity – it has gone beyond a generic desire to throw shit away, to become a “lifestyle”, with its own guru, a brand name, and books you can buy to help you transform your meaningless existence and find inner peace. The KonMari method is one popular approach, and an article I failed to avoid reading today described how one should review one’s possessions and keep only those things that bring “joy”.

Wow. Joy. That’s a high bar. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I can pretty much walk through my whole house and pick up everything I own in turn, and I doubt there’s a single thing in there that would bring me “joy”. It could be because I have a sad, meaningless existence, and am in desperate need of decluttering, but I suspect that’s not the case. I don’t have any desire to self-harm; I don’t find myself weeping uncontrollably for no reason as I sit, rocking back and forth, on the stairs; I certainly appear to spend way too much time laughing and enjoying myself for that to be the case. But none of the crap I own brings me joy.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a thought – how much joy can one expect to receive from owning a toilet brush? Not a polished ivory, diamond-studded Kardashian model, just a simple plastic bog brush. Couple of dollars from WalMart. Not exactly a needle-mover on the joy scale. This morning, however, partly as a result of Bison Daughter’s bread and cake making day yesterday, I happened to, how do I put this delicately, manage to block the toilet. Not “plunger and plumber” block, just a giant U-shaped sausage stuck in the bottom of the bowl, receiving the flush like a dead seal, impervious to pressure. There was the plastic brush – one small push and everything went on its way. Joy? Not really. But relative to the “no brush” alternative, it was a pretty good option. Maybe a toilet brush doesn’t bring joy, but having to break up a turd with your fingers would be about the opposite of joy.

And that, I would suggest, is the reason for most of the stuff we have in our homes that would otherwise be called clutter. It brings us no joy for 364 days of the year, and then on one day we need it. I get no joy from a box of assorted screws and nails, at least until I need one and can pick one out rather than drive fifteen minutes to the hardware store, buy a packet, drive home, find out they’re the wrong ones, swear, drive back, wait in line to return them, buy another packet and drive home again. I don’t need dried milk, until I run out of milk, and I don’t need my electric pump until my tire goes flat.

Stuff is a bit like insurance. It’s a complete waste of money, until you need it, and then you’re glad you have it. The purpose of stuff is not so much to bring joy as to avoid misery, or at least irritation and minor unhappiness. Arranging stuff makes sense, if it makes you happier, but not if it’s so you can post a picture on Facebook and show off to your friends in the KonMari club. And certainly not if you become some weird, nervous, OCD bitch, constantly fretting that someone left a book out.

Do I have shit in my house that I could throw away? Sure. And I will, when I move house. Until then it can stay down in the basement and give the spiders something to play with. Because, when you think about it, even arachnids deserve some joy in their lives.

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