<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 122 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 12, 2003

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Neeman A Sobhan

The last time I moved house and was assaulted by the accumulated junk of years, I made a solemn promise to myself never, ever, to keep anything that I didn't foresee using the very next day. But as the irritating Mr. Know-it-all dwelling within wise old adages would say: never say never!

Second of all, I have come to the realisation that junk does not passively collect, it is actively created by the passive inaction on our part to deal with it immediately. Just as we must develop the habit of dealing with our emails the moment we receive one or forever keep it on our files, likewise we must decisively contend with the contents of our closets, wardrobes, bookshelves, drawers, shoe boxes, cigarette cartons, empty chocolate tins, the space beneath the bed or over the headboard, under the stairs, below the bookshelf, on top of the fridge, behind the flower pots, between the pages of books, within the folded flaps of the warped and expensive table-tennis table, inside the unused barbeque.........and other sundry places where junk breeds.

And the junk flourishes with the loving care given by our human instincts for self preservation, that is to say, preservation of anything material connected with ourselves. Or it could be just a lack of a sense of priority regarding what is useful and what is useless, matched with a lack of discipline to deal with the potentially useless even after we know that when we store it we are basically postponing decision.

The contents of my basement and attics generally contain mostly this category of junk: deferred objects. I have ten bulging plastic bags and three small battered suitcases of paper alone, ranging from the 'what the hell is this?' to 'someday, I might need this' . Same with clothes. I wear until I wear out basically four or five sets of clothes every season yet the rest of my ample closet houses thousands of articles of apparel that never see the light of day and have no apparent function except to remind me of a shopping mistake which I will one day justify by wearing it but is too good to throw or give away. I could arguably live out of one suitcase. In fact, all of this year I have been a rootless traveller proving the point that man only needs one or two change of clothes, the rest is exaggeration, vanity and potential junk.

Simplify, less-is-more, those are the war cries of my minimalist philosophy of life, and I have always considered that 'Can I live without it?' is a question more spiritually rewarding than 'who-am-I?' Yet, in spite of so much metaphysical maturity and mockery for materialism, the junk in my home has never abated.

Then there is the aspect of sentimentality that governs the mental and physical junkyard of our lives. How can you throw away anything to do with your childhood, your husband's childhood, your children's childhood, your mother-in-law's grandmother's childhood? How can you trash those objects from the earliest days of your marriage ('Oh! Look darling, the screw driver from the first tool-kit we bought at that mid-night sale at K-Mart, remember?' Well, it is sweet and no, I don't need to have my screws attended to, thank you) or from the earliest stages of a hobby: first and fourth pair of expensive roller blades, lucky skate boards, only-need-to-be-restrung-perfectly-fine squash and tennis rackets, badminton nets wrapped around cricket wickets, belly dancing scarves jingling to the top hat of the last of two drum sets, tins of half used paints and varnishes, rolls of wall paper, programme posters of the newly set-up cultural organisation and copies of the first two issues of its magazine, stage props, antique Olivetti typewriter, old computers, dusty VCR's, a gap-tooth musical keyboard, speakers, the Nintendo game at various stages of its evolution, aquariums, dog houses, skiing gloves, trekking boots, beach towels and under water goggles....? The mind boggles.

Then, there is the other danger: another person's junk is our treasure. I just threw away ten pairs of mildewed shoes, and five pairs of stilettos that overstepped the borders of elegant discomfort, and then grabbed a heavy metal shoe display tree from a moving friend, which then I paid someone else to throw away. Every year, in Rome, I and my friends (in the absence of sisters and cousins) hold a casual sari-exchange and coffee event where we give away dozens of saris we never wear in a drive to empty our closets, and come home with two dozen of someone else's.

I really believe in the Feng Shui principle that if you don't throw away old things, you cannot make room for new things or new events to come into your home and life. The I-might-use-it-one-day motive I know now to be the most spurious and faulty reason to hold on to anything. If you haven't used something in one year, just give it away, because the chances of your ever using it diminishes with each day that passes. And when the improbable day when you might actually need it dawns, you will probably not find it readily, and who wants to go through the torture of mining the old clothes bundles madly repeating 'Eeesh! I know I had it, but where o where did I keep it?' Its not worth it. Just let it go.

Of course, it just happens to me that the day after I have finally given away something, say that screaming pink silk dress that some well meaning but colour blind friend once gave me and which I have been holding on to for years because the silk is lovely and who knows when someone might need it for a fancy dress or theme colour party, a friend rings up and says they are going to a Think-Pink party and do I have something in .....?

One of my favourite humour columnist Erma Bombeck once mentioned a principle the human race employs when dealing with left over food. I have forgotten how she put it, but in essence it goes like this: when clearing the meal, the house wife finds herself with a bit of left over, say some dessert, which, though she knows no one is going to eat, she still cannot bring herself to throw into the garbage. It is, after all, good food and she is a good, God fearing human being, how can a good woman just throw away good food? So, she goes through the elaborate ritual of putting expensive cling paper on it and puts it in the fridge. Every day, she and her family open the fridge and ignore the plate, and it stays there for two more days. Then the day after, the house wife notices a bit of fungus and clicks her tongue, but feels relieved. Now the food is beyond eating; now it is safe to throw away.

It's the same with my basement and attic. Not until the dusty, grimy, stored furniture go beyond the point of salvaging (something we promise to do) and transcend to that stage of perfect mould and rust, can we throw it with a clear conscience. It's the same for the cartons of school and college books, back issues of unread but wonderful for knowledge National Geographic, and the unsorted files, documents and warranty papers from cars, houses, apparatus and appliances we no longer own: not until they crawl with worms do they get a decent burial.

No more. As soon as I have waded through my unmatched crockery and sport socks, faded pillow cases (which could be made into pot holders) or the boxes of used wrapping paper, old ties, glass bangles, six sets of batik dinner mats with small stains, 100 orphaned sari blouses, tins of old coins from countries that no longer exist and in the case of my little plastic sack of lira and European coins, remnants of a currency that is now defunct, and much, much more, I will streamline my life and my cupboards to contain nothing but what is absolutely essential. For the moment, what shall I do with the sheets of edited, corrected copies of this article? Should I throw them into the waste bin? What if my computer crashes, my diskette gets lost, I change my mind about the second paragraph. Let me just hold on to it for the moment. Next week I'll trash it. Promise.


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