First Person: Messing around chez moi
When her husband demands an end to the clutter once and for all, Eilis O'Hanlon considers dumping . . . him
Himself has a saying: "You can have space, or you can have stuff, but you can't have both." He didn't invent the phrase. It comes from a children's book called Mouse And Mole. What can you say? Some people draw their vision of life from great works of art and philosophy. Others draw it from picture books about small animals who dress in tweeds and ride motorcycles. Who are we to judge the simple-minded?
There was a whole series of books about the two happy creatures, who lived together in a totally non-gay way, a bit like Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, because they're definitely not gay either, are they? Mouse and Mole was even made into a TV series; we have it on DVD and I know every line, especially the episode where the two vermin discuss how to resolve their contradictory views on space versus stuff.
That's probably because this is a conflict that plays out repeatedly in our house, as I fight a losing battle against untidiness and am informed by His Majestic Smugness that the mess is actually my fault for owning too many things, and that he would be quite happy to live in a state of blissful, non-materialistic minimalism like a Buddhist monk.
"Take that thing over there. Whatever the hell it is," he says, pointing to a candlestick that has been sitting, minding its own business, in the middle of the kitchen table for years. "Why did you get that?"
"You bought it for me," I say smugly.
"OK then, what about that object over there?"
"You got that for me too, dear," I say very smugly. It soon transpires that most of the stuff whose existence is allegedly cluttering up our lives was bought by him, usually for birthdays or Christmases, because he couldn't be bothered thinking of more original presents. But he's undeterred. "It doesn't matter where you got it or who bought it for you," he declares. "Just dump it all." That way, apparently, the house would magically become tidy, because there would be no knick-knacks, thingamabobs, oojahs and what-nots to cause untidiness.
Yes. I know. You've mentioned it before. About ten thousand times. That doesn't make it true. It's not stuff which causes untidiness, as I have been trying patiently for years to explain. It's not putting away the stuff that creates the mess, and, in our house, unless I'm the one putting them away, things are just left where they land for months and years on end.
Someday, I wouldn't be surprised to shift a pile of old clothes - which has been sitting in the corner so long, it's become part of the fixtures and fittings - to find another child that we didn't even know we had, because the poor thing was hidden by all the clutter.
But does anyone listen to me? Of course not. Instead, they're taking their advice on household management from a rodent who lives with a mole. Which doesn't make sense on any level. Moles are blind, subterranean-dwelling creatures. He wouldn't even be able to see Mouse, let alone discuss his views on interior design.
After a bit of negotiation, I agree to dump some stuff, and he promises to put away what's left in its rightful place. Deep down, I know this means I've lost, because half my stuff is now gone and it's still going to be muggins here who ends up clearing away what's left, before getting the blame for having it in the first place.
The perfect solution would be to buy another house and to put our contrasting philosophies of untidiness to the test. Himself can live in that one. I'll live in this one. Now, let the battle commence.
The problem is that, once I'd got the house to my preferred level of neatness would I really want him coming back and making everything messy again? In fact, to make the experiment better, he should really take the children with him too. Just so all's fair, I'll keep the cats. To be honest, I think we're going to get on fine. Me, the cats and all our lovely stuff. Purrfect.