Joburg Expat: Clutter, Culture, and Getting Stuff Done

March 9, 2015

Clutter, Culture, and Getting Stuff Done

I love Pamela Druckerman.

I also envy her a little bit, as she went from blogger to bestselling expat memoirist to New York Times columnist. But mostly I just try to admire her. I've mentioned her here when I talked about balanced (expat) families.

Most recently she wrote about clutter, or rather, mankind's newest love affair with de-cluttering as the solution to all human ills. She arrives at the conclusion that it's probably more a fad, like all those other self-help fads we regularly feel compelled to try, and that " I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was."

"Less may be more," she goes on to say, "but it's still not enough." Gotta love that penchant for philosophy from a fellow blogger!

The part I most loved about the article, however, is what it revealed about different cultures through the lens of their respective domestic messes. A British clutter expert was consulted, and she shared some of her experiences with her international online courses.

The British, it turns out, have the most trouble with unwanted heirlooms. Ugh, those pesky Chippendale writing desks, what to do with such hardship in one's life! Italians apparently have the largest number of "unused objects" - there's a way to put a positive spin on the word "clutter." Germans, on the other hand, already have such orderly homes that whenever they mail photos of them to the expert, she is somewhat mystified as to how to help them further. Nevertheless, Germans stubbornly are her biggest subscribers. It's as if they want to wage war against the tiniest hint of a mess with all their might by squashing it before it even appears.

I had to laugh. Because of course this is so true. Have I shown you my "messy" kitchen drawer, you know, the one everyone has in their house for miscellaneous stuff?

Typical German messy kitchen drawer

Here is another one. Maybe, instead of writing books, I should try
to make money by becoming a de-cluttering expert?

If you're an expat, you may not feel a huge need to de-clutter anyway. Moving often (and being constrained by the dimensions of a 40-foot container) helps you continually get rid of things. As an expat you always find yourself either right before a move or right after one, and both will inspire you to throw away stuff en masse.

But does keeping your life clutter-free really make you happier and more efficient?

There is no doubt it makes me happier. I simply couldn't live in a cluttered home. I have, at times, gagged when entering a place and picking up my child from a playdate. 

But overall I tend to agree with Miss Druckerman. The trouble with the magic bullet of de-cluttering, promising that “once your house is orderly, you can pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life” is that that particular time never, ever, arrives. Trust me, I've tried. You can clean your house and pantry and desk until the cows come home, and you'll never get anything else done in your life, because there will always be more housework! The surest way to get something meaningful done in your life is to let the housework be and sit down at your keyboard and start typing already, dust bunnies notwithstanding. At least it worked for me and I have a book to show for it. My kitchen drawers may be orderly, but please don't look under my sofa.

And now, excuse me while I go and rearrange some things in my house so that it will look as if I have cleaned...