By Doreen Taylor.
The Women of Punch, 1961.
" Whoever said that happiness consisted not in the number of your possessions but in the fewness of your wants had obviously never tried to run a house. I mean, however few your wnats you’re bound to have a lot of things you want but not now: the things you’re left with.
Take- well, you might take anything, but take those little hooks that you slot through the tape on your curtains. Now nobody ever manages to get the right number. Either you’re one short, in which case you have to buy another dozen, or you’ve nine too many. Either way you’re left with a number of hooks which must be housed so you don’t have to buy so many next time. Investigation proves that most people keep these in the left hand drawer of the sewing machine if they have one and it has drawers. If not, they put them under the tablecloths in the right hand drawer of the sideboard, or in a ginger jar on the drawing room mantleshelf. The point is that wherever you put them, you will find a number of articles, completely unrelated, which you are keeping for emergencies you know well will arise, but not until you have thrown them away. And where are you keeping them?
You can rule out the shed and the garage, the tool box and the coal bunker from this argument. We’re not discussing anything for which there is a logical place. We’re going demented over the things which can’t be classified. Anybody’s list includes three spare handles for the sideboard, two washers which were left out of the vacuum last time you mended it and which you are going to replace next time you mend it, a cleaning kit for your cigarette lighter which you can’t find when you want to clean it, and seven or eight of thosse little tin scrapers which come inside the packets of stick on rubber soles and which you keep in case you ever get sold a packet without one.
Lierature too, is a great worry. I don’t mean Shakespeare or Henry James, but the sort of thing that comes with the refrigerator telling you the model number and what to do if it blows up, and manufacturers’ catalogues of things you are going to buy but not yet, and newspaper cuttings telling you when to put up a nesting box for blue tits and how to fill holes in the floorboards with papier mache. As for periodical literature, this is a study in itself. there is no compromise: either you keep the lot or you throw it away relentlessly. A friend of mine once spent weeks going through his journals and magazines, cutting out everything she though she might want again, and in the end. there was nothing to throw away but the margins.
There is a related problem, equally insoluable. This concerns things you are quite sure you want to get rid of , but cannot. Far more houses than you imagines are concealing in their cupboards not skeletons but such impedimenta as organs, semi-billiard tables and broken mowing machines. You may say that mere size is the difficulty here; but no. Have you ever tried to dispose of, for instance, a pair of fifty-six pound weights, a whetstone, or a large plaster copy of the Venus de Milo? Well, you just want to try.
There seem to be two satisfactory solutions to the problem of housing miscellania. One is to move house all the time so that you never have time to collect anything. This is very expensive and fatiguing. The other is to set up in the box-room several filing cabinets, chests of drawers and cupboards, all labelled with what is or is going inside them. This is a full time job to keep in order and brings on obsessions, particuarly about what to call things.
There is another way, which is adopted by most people, and obtains very strongly in this establishment. This is to put every object of the nature we have been discussing inside the nearest receptacle to wherever you where when you last had it. When you need it again all you have to do is remember where you where last time. This is terribly difficult, but no more so than trying to think of a suitable storage place in the first instance. this must be why I found fifty feet of trout line in the piano stool last week; it must be. I can’t think of any other reason. Perhaps the night we had the Trout Quintet?"