Simply out of reach

Posted by jdg | Monday, April 03, 2006 |

On Saturday Wood and I stopped in Design Within Reach to imagine what kind of bedroom we'd have if we weren't slobs.

We stood in front of a certain bedroom set and said to each other, "Do you think we could ever live like that?" The truth is, we both know that even if we were the kind of people to spend $3,000 on a bed, the bedding would end up covered in milk stains, there would be stuffed animals or board books everywhere. It would be a miracle just to get it made every day. The DWR catalog is like porn. In real life, no one's house looks like that, but you still find yourself lustfully fantasizing about minimalist interiors without overturned sippy cups and piles and piles of shit everywhere. One can only hope that when the DWR photographer leaves, some dude absentmindedly sets an empty glass of water on the side table or the dog chews up a corner of the Italian-leather sofa. I have the same relationship with the DWR catalog that Wood has with US Weekly. We both secretly covet and loathe the pretty things inside and wish them all kinds of ill.

One of the greatest of my many hypocrisies is that I tend to portray myself as one who adores simplicity, when in reality I am an incredibly proficient pack rat. When Wood told me she was pregnant, one of the first things I did was move my computer desk from our living room to the walk-in closet, an important gesture in the oncoming battle against the clutter in our 650-square foot apartment. It has since become a lair of crap penetrable only by me. As I write this I have cleared just enough space for my hands to reach the keyboard and a 2" radius for the mouse, but every other inch of desk is covered, usually with piles. I've got a pile of my VHS collection of classic 70s trucker movies (e.g. White Line Fever, Truck Stop Women, Convoy, Deadhead Miles), and I don't even own a VCR. There are piles of CDs, DVDs, my collection of books about underwater archaeology, worthless broken electronics, photos of shoeshine boys, Victorian engravings, spools of wire, a stereo receiver, a troupe of tiny plastic ninjas, and a pile of our tax documents. I'm still trying to put together the prize packages for the winners of the First Annual Sweet Juniper Weird Search Hit Contest that ended a month ago. The whole point of that contest for me was to get rid of some of this useless, I mean awesome, stuff.

And then there's sweet little Juniper. Before she came along, Wood and I were occasionally capable of glossing over our slobbery with a veneer of order. But our chances of doing that now with Juniper's stuff everywhere are shot to shit. Greg recently wrote a post showing how even "the greatest minimalist of all," Donald Judd, couldn't keep his place neat with a kid around. What hope do we have?

Juniper and I are not solely responsible for the clutter in our lives. My wife is generally a pretty chill parent, but what neuroses she does have come out in her purchases at the baby store. Take for example, Juniper's socks. Please, take some. We love trumpette socks. They are cute and they stay on, true, but did we need five boxes of them? That's a hundred fucking dollars worth of socks. Unhappy with the first baby wash and moisturizer we used, she simply went out and bought every other kind. Four or five kinds of diaper rash cream. When Juniper gets sick, we don't just get the infant Tylenol. We get EVERYTHING. Our bathroom is like an infant apothecary. The worst came when Juniper was struggling to drink from a bottle last summer at day care. Assuming the problem was technological and not innate to our infant, Wood bought every bottle made by every manufacturer and every nipple too. And don't even get me started about the recent invasion of every imaginable species of sippy cup.

Suspicious as I am about the whole baby industry in general, I don't see a real need for any of this, but I usually keep my mouth shut. I am always one for putting things into perspective. When Wood claims we need something much pricier than a sippy cup, I usually say something like, "Sacagawea gave birth to her baby a few weeks before Lewis and Clark embarked and she carried his ass on a cradleboard the entire way to the Pacific Ocean. Do we really need another _________." Usually the answer is "Yes," but my point has been made. All babies really need are boobs.

Driving down America's highways, more and more you see new self-storage facilities dotting the landscape; the "Container Store" is now ubiquitous in our strip malls alongside Best Buy and Target and all their ilk. An entire industry has sprung up to help Americans deal with all their stuff. Why do we have so much goddamn stuff?

Although the thought of moving gives me hives, I also see moving as an opportunity to shuffle off some of this material excess. I still foster this inner hope that with an actual home and not a 650-square-foot apartment we will be able to keep it minimalist and classy, but my fear is that more space just means more opportunity for the junk to propagate and spread.

A couple years ago when the California Academy of Sciences' Natural History Museum had its yard sale, I had to call pregnant Wood to come help me carry all the junk I bought back. I'm so relieved, now, that the ratty, ancient stuffed ostrich was already sold when I got there, because otherwise I'd be wondering how I was going to get that 7-foot motherfucker to Michigan. But that day I sure was pissed someone beat me to it. I have long been self-banished from eBay, but I fear that a return to the land of garage sales and awesome thrift stores spells trouble. Sometimes I fantasize about just tossing everything: all the fruits of my college dumpster diving days, all the weird crap I lugged back from Europe or China or all the stupid architectural concept paintings and silly chairs. But then I get intensely jealous of the hypothetical person who'd come along and discover the treasure trove after I dump at all. I can't let them have it. It's all my junk. Mine, I tell you! Mine!