Mon 20 Oct 2008
my house is drowning.
or rather, i feel like my house is drowning…to the outside observer, it more likely looks a little cluttered, overstuffed. and dusty, definitely dusty. but i can live with the dustbunnies…we reached a detente years ago, where they keep to their corners and i keep to mine. it’s the clutter, the sense of being crowded in on by stuff, stuff everywhere, that makes me batshit crazy, turns my voice shrill and my eyes all deer in headlights. i have more tolerance for dental drilling than i do for clutter, especially clutter of the sort where there’s really nowhere left to put any frigging thing and you can no longer keep track of what half of it is for or where it would go.
i blame the children.
Josephine, it appears, was born with six suitcases worth of stuff to her name. i swear i didn’t buy it, much…it just materialized with celebrations and kindnesses, donations and gifts and hand-me-downs and my occasional breakdown in the face of wee smocked dresses on sale. Oscar, too, owns more clothes than i do, and seems to sing toys from the sky like birds.
or bird droppings. scattershot, they adorn our den helter-skelter, while i flap about the house trodding on Thomas the Tank Engine and squawking “confusion and delay!” in my best – if unintentional – Sir Topham Hatt imitation. Thomas at least has spent a solid year enthralling my offspring…the charms of others have not been so enduring. i didn’t realize how quickly kids outgrow their toys…that the Little People farm will not do him until he’s twelve, no matter whether i spent fifty bucks on it or not. in any case, old toys are banished to the shed to lie in wait for Posey or for loan to little cousins, and new ones arrive to take their place. the task of trying to squeeze them back into the house when Poe is ready looms like a date with my own personal idea of hell.
yesterday my half-sister, bless her, brought her rainforest swing for Josephine. it’s a gorgeous swing, almost new. the baby loves it. and it has a footprint the size of a small zeppelin…i’ve slept in rooms smaller than the floorspace that swing eats up. i’ve been hyperventilating since it arrived, trying to figure out which wall to knock out in order to make room for the bloody thing. i want it, don’t get me wrong. but i don’t want to give up the room for it. and when your house is twelve hundred square feet, room is not in infinite supply…thus clutter happens.
so much has come so easy. fifty years ago, families of four and five and six children were regularly raised in houses precisely this size, likely with fewer lamentations and a lot less clutter. my mother, who has not hesitated to inform me more than a few times that she got me through to toilet training with only a dozen thin old diapers and a wringer washer, stares in thinly veiled horror at the largesse of toys and outfits that her grandchildren possess. i shrug lamely and swear i didn’t buy it all, and she and i both recognize how lucky i am to be freed from the worry and want that haunted her all through my childhood.
but it’s too much, people. it is a joy and privilege to be able to give my kids some nice things…creature comforts, imaginative toys, cute clothes. i am in no way above the materialism of my world and my time…this age of indulgence that’s crept over all of us – or at least all of us who can lay our hands on credit – has left me thinking little of dropping dollars on things that please me. and things for my children please me. but when we live more simply than most people we know and i still have nightmares wherein colonizing, primary-coloured plastic toys eat me alive whilst playing tinny nursery rhyme tunes, there’s a problem somewhere. and maybe it’s not just that i’m disturbed.
recession scares me, sure. the shitkicking my savings have taken over the past month or so leaves a little tang of fear in my mouth so sour that my brain prefers not to consider the subject at all. but, at the same time, the Scots pioneer deep down in my soul feels freed by the prospect of reckoning, of forced frugality, of a retreat from a culture of such excess that my not-quite-six-week-old owns more stuff than whole families not so far from here whom fortune has not treated so generously. parenting as a consumer pastime is not what i want to be. i need less, folks, less than what i have.
we may all have to make do on less, and i don’t want to paint that as falsely rosy. for some, there is genuinely no wiggle room. but for many of us, less is a very relative term at this juncture…our less still more than any generation before us ever considered having, and much of it unnecessary. i hope our culture can use this downturn to do a little needed paring of our bloat, our clutter. i do not want my children to mistake all this for entitlement, or for happiness. and – for the sake of my sanity – i do not want to step on another godforsaken toy train.
are you drowning? in stuff, or fear of what a downturn will mean?