Monday, Oct 03, 2022

A Life Less Hackable

Like everyone else,the more chaos my life is pitched into,the more I seek out visions of calm and control.

I love contemplating productivity solutions,but never get around to applying any

Like everyone else,the more chaos my life is pitched into,the more I seek out visions of calm and control. As we prepare to move homes,with half my belongings in boxes,I’ve been spending vast amounts of time with a website called Unclutterer. The site’s gospel is that conservative Victorian chestnut,“a place for everything and everything in its place”.

Disorder is in the eyes of the partner,parent or roommate. A teenager’s messy bedroom mirrors the confusion and creativity of her mind,but to her father,it shouts “lack of control”. The psychologist-essayist Adam Phillips writes,“our relationship to what we think of as the other person’s disorder,or their disordering of us,is a picture,a synecdoche,of our relationship to them”.

My husband and I are slovenly in exactly the same way,so there’s no one to blame. Tables sag under books and papers and flyers. Clothes pile up on available surfaces. And now we have a puppy to upend even any working order we might have devised. Which might explain why I find myself dreaming these trivial domestic dreams.

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And wanting my next living space to be as austere as a tomb.So this website,Unclutterer,has all kinds of ideas on how you can work your way into a more zen state. Did you know that it is important to have a little “landing strip”,a drop zone,as soon as you come home? That’s where you put down all the encumbrances — bags,keys,wallet,everything. Did you know that 15 minutes of clutter patrolling every day can make all the difference? That if you give away two things for every new thing you acquire,you could achieve greater mental calm? The advice ranges from the mundane (keeping lost-sock bags,hiding disheveled cables) to the philosophical,gently detaching you from keepsakes.

The urge to purge,perhaps inevitably,is accompanied by the urge to purchase. It seems you need the requisite products to bring about this future order — shoe cases and drawer organisers,hangers and racks,coordinated storage boxes. These are great fun to browse through,if not buy. I remember the miracle of the first vacuum bag I saw — watching clothes shrink and petrify.  

This new interest in first-world organisation solutions is probably just a reaction to the way I have lived all these years,haunted by the consequences of sloppy paperwork. I’ve lost marksheets,financial information,tickets.  So now I can’t get enough of stationery – coloured paper clips and Post-its,roomy accordion files for tax returns,five-subject notebooks. If my stuff was filed,I’d be sorted too.


But all this is catalogue-yearning — just imagining this future harmonious existence is enough,it doesn’t prompt me to actually do anything. I really like books that describe houses with linen chests,tea brought up at five o’clock and curtains drawn with care; TV shows about the ceremonies of a thriving household. But the burdens of real housekeeping only sound tedious,something I’m glad to offload on to someone,anyone,who will do it for love or money.

I suspect it’s only in fiction that people derive great satisfaction from the steam and hiss of ironing,from the rigours of scrubbing tiles. American writer Caitlin Flanagan’s book on “loving and loathing your inner housewife” idealises the kind of person who did things with “one part bleach and nine parts warm water”. And yet,she knows,she does not want to put in the actual labour of running a home like that.

The internet makes it easier for slobs because we can all just gaze at more pleasant realities. Lifehacker,for instance,sells me on the joys of a white,sunlit workspace. Why do I need to create one when I can just think wistfully of it? It also tells me how to peel an orange right around the middle,eliminating mess and creating a perfect bowl for an orange peel candle. It teaches me how to write pithy emails that achieve results,timeboxing to complete a work project. 43 folders,another “creative productivity” website,acknowledges that reading about all this is like buying a chair about jogging,but tries to be helpful anyway.


There are all kinds of methods to work better — the Pomodoro system,which suggests you focus solely on a single task for 25 minutes,the kanban technique,which tries to prioritise,and cut down on work-in-progress. But many of these productivity and efficiency systems are too complicated to actually save you any time — apparently,80 per cent of people give up on them after a while.

But then again,your reach should always exceed your grasp.

I just like that idea of perfectibility,that a better and more graceful existence is available,if you only follow the rules.

First published on: 19-05-2013 at 05:55:46 am
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