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Confessions of a hoardophobe.
You need a towel rack, says a friend exiting my bathroom, the hand towel lying on the vanity behind him. I screw up my face. Too much of a commitment, I say. You’re joking, he says, Right? And then, seeing I’m serious, he adds, I feel like I’m in an episode of Seinfeld.
No Seinfeld, that would require a TV, I don’t have a TV, but I’ve given a towel rack a great deal of thought. I’ve also thought about curtains and a SodaStream and a milk frother and an InstaPot and a toilet paper holder. I’ve thought about a frame for my new masters degree and even oven mitts or a fifth tea towel. But mostly I’m reluctant to have things I don’t absolutely need.
When I had a house and kids I was less discriminating, objects came and went with relative abandon. Everyone in the household had their own needs and desires and mostly satisfied them at will without opposition from me. Even then, however, I preferred a clutter-free environment. Clean is optional, I used to say, but tidy is essential. I had to be able to find things and, when found, they needed to be in working order. In other words, we had to take care of whatever we felt it necessary to own.
Much of what I brought into the house I found on the city’s finer curbs. I didn’t want to bankrupt myself just to have nice things but I had standards, a thing had to be in good shape, attractive, and well made. No projects.
When I collapsed that household, kids mostly gone and space needs reduced, I packed all I wanted into two loadings of a Honda, a sedan, and moved into a condo. The distance between house and condo being short, I enlisted a friend to help me walk a table over. I secured a new used couch and its mover on Kijiji. Everything else I got rid of. With care. It was a spartan scene, the condo, like I’d just left home for the first time but as a mature adult instead of a teen.
Ever since then I’ve been especially careful about what comes in. I’m like an anti-hoarder, an unhoarder, a hoardophobe. I’m Marie Kondo, the superstar tidier, on High: clutter doesn’t have a chance with me. I am my own advance guard. I stand in Value Village, object in hand, a single drinking glass of my favourite type, restaurant ware circa 1950s, juice size, for wine, and I think to myself, I love it but do I need it? I’ve already done this with everything at home and now I do it before anything even gets that far. It needs to belong, have a place. And if it doesn't pass the test? I acknowledge its virtues, it wiles, and return it to the shelf.
The same applies to wants, I prefer to need them. I hung my first piece of art only a two months ago. I hadn’t seen anything I liked enough in the previous seven years to make me want to put a hole in the wall. When the right thing finally appeared, I got out the hammer. And a nail. And a hook. There was no question that I wanted to live with the picture I’d found, it brought me joy.
Typically, when a thing comes in it’s on the condition that something else leave. I’ve achieved the ideal ratio of stuff to space and now it’s simply a matter of maintaining it, like knowing how much cream to put in my coffee. Empty space has value. Empty, uninterrupted space. It’s a luxury, like time. That drinking glass at Value Village? If it comes through the door it’s because I’ve already decided which glass has to go, return to the material world wilds, or which side table or chair in order to make way for its successor.
As a result, my condo seems austere to some, unfinished to others. No towel rack? Bear with me, I say to that friend, I can explain. It feels so clinical, says another, seeing my place for the first time. The finishes don’t help, light-coloured cabinetry countertop, floor, trim. Twenty-five feet of curtainless windows. Do you mean sterile? I ask the friend. Yes, Yes, he says, That’s the word. Sterile!
I know when I’ve gone too far, the towel rack isn't it. Family photos, that’s where I’ve erred. My oldest daughter may never forgive me for declining the offer of a professional photo of my grandson, a boy I love dearly and can’t get enough of in the flesh. I adore him. And yet the offer of a photo implied a frame and display space and I instantly felt claustrophobic. No thank you, I said, explaining why. But it was too late, I’d already screwed up. The photo was beautiful, I could have displayed it any way I chose, it didn’t need to involve a frame.
Space is, for me, the physical equivalent of mental quiet and clarity. It feels expansive, welcoming, inviting. The greater the space around a thing the more likely I am to see it. And appreciate it.
I have a soft spot for practical as well. I recently began to assemble the makings for window coverings. Much though I love the feeling of the exterior being an extension of the interior, continuous visual space, it’s becoming impractical with climate change: too much sun and heat. But the curtains have to satisfy certain criteria. The dozen yards of fabric and rods have to be inobtrusive when open, they can’t make a nuisance of themselves, ruin the view. It’s mostly just rooftops anyway but they’re my rooftops and the tops of telephone poles and trees and sky and snow swirling in beams of street light at night and high-rise lights dotting the middle distance of my manmade Milky Way and I treasure them all.
My hand towel will continue to dry laid out on the vanity, no rack, but my grandchildren, now three in number, have claimed their rightful place in my life, tiny unframed facsimiles of their beautiful selves on display, occupying a place of honour.
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