You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Friday, 4 October 2013

My New Home is Tiny

I'll measure it for you.

Just one room, 3.7m by 4.9m, and 3.9m by 2.4m of verandah space, for the two of us. And miles and miles of bushland outside and beyond.

It's a considerable downsize from my previous home, a two-storey, two-bedroom townhouse. It's been a long journey to my new tiny home, which began, rather bizarrely, with getting hooked on an American reality TV program.

It was Hoarders, and it was really horrible television, on a really ugly subject, but I was fascinated with this tragic side effect of our culture of consumption - a disorder caused by affluence. I was a bit surprised with myself for getting into a reality TV show, but even more surprised to realise, as I watched more episodes, just how closely I identified with these people on the show, these people who had a hoarding disorder. How much I understood exactly what they were talking about. How very closely they were describing the way I felt about possessions. How very easily I could become one of these people, if I had the space and didn't have to pack it all up and move pretty damn regularly, as I have most of my life. Say, if I owned my own house, like the people on the TV show did. That was the only difference between them and me, it sometimes seemed. I looked around my home and saw the warning signs.

So I decided to clean up my act and my clutter a bit. I googled subjects like 'simplify' and 'de-clutter', I read all the advice and I followed it. I had serious words with myself about my op-shopping obsession, and cut back on my purchases dramatically. More often, I visited the op shop to drop stuff off. Each time I tidied the house, I found stuff that I could de-clutter, and it went in a box by the door. When the box was full, I carried it around to the op shop. I followed the rules. Slowly, slowly, bit by bit, I was becoming more aware of my relationship with my possessions. I cleared out a few corners.

It was during this time that I came upon the 'tiny home' movement that is so popular in many places now. I realised that my full family-sized home was ridiculously oversized. I knew I need to physically limit the amount of stuff I could collect and store. I felt desperately overwhelmed about keeping up with housework among all my clutter, and the idea of an very low-maintenance home was just intoxicating. I googled some more and read some books. I decided. My next home had to be a Tiny Home.

One fine, otherwise ordinary day, I was going through my 'fabric collection', which was the word I used to describe the archival layers of jumbled textiles and fragments and alleged mending jobs that took up a whole ragged corner of the room I would refer to as my 'studio' in a similarly euphemistic fashion. I was choosing pieces that could be given away if they were good enough, or, more likely, torn up for cleaning rags, or, in absolutely drastic cases, just put in the rubbish bin. By now I was looking at the pieces with a new, discerning eye that I had trained to look past the sentimentality and see the reality of the physical object. I was sorting quite ruthlessly, and I was coping really well with it, until I came across a handbag.

I bought this handbag when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. It was my Bag through all my glorious travels when I was young and free and the world was my oyster. It was the best handbag ever, it fit in exactly the right spot on my hips when slung over my shoulder, it was the perfect size and shape, it had the perfect pockets for all the things I needed to carry. I wore it to death. It was dying for a long time, and I kept it together with long hours of patient stitching and reinforcing long after it would have gone gracefully to its grave. I did some of the best damn darning of my life on that bag. And when it finally just didn't hold things any more, I kept it to use as a pattern for making other handbags from. I did use that basic shape and pattern to make a couple of bags, but they were never anywhere near as good as the original.

And even that was years ago now. But still every time I packed up all my stuff and moved house over those years, I packed that bag into my fabric pile and carried it to the next place.

And in that moment, I saw for the first time what that bag had become. It was a piece of old rubbish, and it was useless. This bag was going in the rubbish bin. But I really, really, loved that bag so much. So I did something that I hadn't done before in all my de-cluttering. I took a picture of it, just to remember it, just like the psychologists told the people on the TV show to do when they found it hard to let go of something they loved, even though it was a piece of rubbish. Here it is, here's the old bag that I loved so much that I had to take a  picture of it.

And this is the darning that I did, that I put so much time and effort into, it seemed so terrible to throw it away.

And so, having a digital record securely stored, I took the bag out the back to the rubbish bin. I got all the way to the rubbish bin and even put my hand on its lid to lift it up. And then I couldn't do it and I turned around and went back to the house, the old bag still in my hands. By the time I got back to the house - all of a dozen steps - I knew I had a problem.

And I cried, and I had a cup of tea, and I got on with my de-cluttering. I decided that my handbag could do very well as an organic mulch, and gave it to the apple tree like an offering, where it very successfully kept some rather aggressive weeds down. When I read Confessions of a Hoarder by Corinne Grant, and I came to the bit where she had an eerily similar experience with a handbag from her teenage years, I thought how very superior my cotton handbag was to her nylon one, in that I could still use mine for mulch. It was a solution that left me very aware that I still had a problem.

One night soon after this I sat at my computer and googled through to a deeper level of information - medical journals, neurology and psychology papers, details of CBT programs specific for hoarding disorder. I ended up staying up all night, crying over the computer screen. I found other people who had words to describe my feelings. I found words that described me and my home more clearly than I would have been able to articulate myself. I saw, so clearly, that if I didn't change things, I could easily find myself on one of those reality TV shows by the time I'm 50.

And I cried some more, and I drank more tea, and I got on with my de-cluttering, more ruthlessly and aggressively than before. I sweated every little decision. I worked hard. I developed a kind of alter-ego who functioned as a substitute for a real psychologist. I programmed her to say all the things that the psychologists and professional organisers on TV would say to the people who were behaving like I was. I knew the scripts off by heart. I had agonising conversations with myself all day. And each evening, I carried another load of stuff around to the op shop.

All in all, it took the greater part of a year to de-clutter myself enough to pack up into a trailer and move to this tiny home. The last week before the move was absolute hell; the last 24 hours, I don't know how I survived. As it was, I wouldn't have managed at all without an angel of mercy appearing in the form of my wonderful next-door neighbour, who took care of the two trailer loads of rubbish and half a room full of stuff that was to go to the op shop that I found myself left with at the end. (She also took my 'mulch' to the tip.)

I am never going to put myself through that again. I am never going to that place again. I am staying in a tiny house forever, where I just can't get myself in that kind of trouble.

I'm not ready to show you pictures of my tiny home set-up yet because honestly it's still not really set up. It's not easy and I'm sometimes discouraged. But I believe in this; I believe it's for the best. 

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