When I was younger I resented time spent tidying up. Any hobbyist, miniaturist or artist will tell you that all the creativity happens on the last six inches of the table. By then, like an athlete, you’ve warmed up and are firing on all six creative cylinders. It is as normal after some hours to fall into bed covered with ink, paint, glue and glory as it is to come downstairs in the morning to discover that a person very close to you had made equal amounts of marvel and mess and that yes, that whole half pint pot of glue had emptied itself into the carpet and disappeared along with the last remaining bit of varnish off the table top and for lo! In their place a work of possible art with a bit of tweaking, or, maybe, a glued lump that some fool spent hours of their life on and which the uninitiated would rightly pour scorn upon, though, clearly, the learning that had taken place would be of inestimable value at some unspecified time in the future.
And then, when the justification is over, comes the clearing up. If you are clearing up after a triumph you don’t want to do it, you want more triumph, in a different colour, perhaps. If it was a disaster stuck to the table you won’t want to expend any more of your precious life rubbing your own nose in your failure. I know crafty shopping channels tell you there is no creative failure, just alternative success and will you please buy another kit because they’ve made it easier now for an extra fiver in a bigger package, look, easy to buy.
As you progress in life it become apparent that not only is the clearing up part of the creative process but that acres of junk prevent you seeing your way to the next creation. Every now and then you need to be honest with yourself and chuck the stuff that you bought in error and the wonderful bargains that were part of a job lot so you bought them anyway.
People have made fortunes writing books that have gone viral about tidying up. As my hobby is different kinds of arty paper crafting, the recycling box is my friend, even though I tripped over it and broke my arm, because if you put a bit of paper in the recycling box you are not throwing away something you stupidly bought and don’t like, you are saving the planet. Do it often enough and David Attenborough will pop up in your garden and give you a Blue Peter badge or possibly a Green David badge and a whale to hold while he ties his shoelace. Maybe.
Either way tidying is empowering and a very good start to the year. January can be a wasted month lamenting the loss of surprise gifts and hedonistic delights. It is many years since I refused to see in the New Year in a chilly and fairly dirty pub by a canal, swapping germs with drunken strangers. Instead I spend the evening ripping up old calendars, turning out old bills from drawers and making way for the year ahead. In many ways my current clear up is an extension of that.
There is also deep in me the memory of my grandmother who did the final tidy up so well that when the family arrived to clear out the house after her death they found one set of underwear in the drawer, one dress, one cardigan neatly on a hanger and everything else in its place and nothing surplus to requirements anywhere. She was so far ahead of her time, not damaging the planet, not leaving a mess for others to tidy up, just leaving the love and only good and inspiring words. I cannot remember a single bad thing she said about anybody. She was a real grown up. We’re a bit short of them these days, even in places where you used to expect to find them, such as politics.
It’s a great thing to aspire to: be a grown up and tidy up your own mess.
Ahead of meeting my surgeon tomorrow I’m off to rationalise my sock drawer.