Confessions of a compulsive consumer

“Porn for disorganized women” is what I like to call the constant barrage of photos and articles in magazines like Real Simple about how to de-clutter one’s life. These beautiful, artfully arranged shelves and rooms where ordinary stuff becomes an art form when placed just so, and all the other stuff around magically vanishes into elegant, color-coordinated cardboard boxes (that cost way more than the brown U-haul boxes from my last move). How to make an object into an objet? Take away everything around it. (Or spray paint it white. No kidding—I saw that in a magazine).

The first male friend I tossed this idea to years ago wasn’t buying it. Oh, Jen, he said, this is totally different from real porn. Those magazines and catalogs are just trying to sell you a fantasy of what your life would look like if you bought their stuff. You know you could never actually do that even if you bought it.

Really? And that’s different from real porn how?

I find it paradoxical, as a woman in modern American society, to pick up a magazine and read about all the things I’m supposed to buy—the right pantyhose, accessories, table linens, brooms made of recycled plastic, bamboo bedsheets, organic facial moisturizer, lemongrass-and-vetiver soy aromatherapy candles—and find, in the pages of the very same publication, all kinds of tips for getting rid of stuff.

“Clutter interrupts the flow of positive chi energy through your home and life. Once you rid yourself of clutter, you have room for new things to come into your life.” Yeah, like lemongrass-and-vetiver soy aromatherapy candles. As the nation’s primary consumers, women apparently are just as responsible for the flow of stuff out the doors as in, and I can’t help but think that these spiffy magazine and catalog pages are just seducing us into buying more new stuff by helping us get rid of all our old stuff.

OK, so I have to admit this. I am a total clutter-busting, feng-shui junkie. This does not mean that mine is a tidy house or life—far from it. Just as I have far more books and magazines about losing weight than I care to admit, so too do the clutter-busting pages take up more space on my bookshelf than they ought to. And yes, I grasp and appreciate the contradicton in that. Can you believe that there are even authors out there who write, perfectly straight-faced, that you can lose weight by getting rid of your clutter? Oh, and not to mention the occasional trips to my personal porn palace mecca, Ikea. Can one find enlightenment amid flatpak Swedish style? I still have to test this theory from time to time.

I also have to admit that in those moments when I manage to sweep out the junk and get my house in order, I do feel more calm and at peace with myself. For a moment, the world seems balanced, and everything seems possible. And then the laundry comes off the line, the dishes pile up, the junk mail arrives (no matter how many “do not mail” lists I have signed up for), and the cycle begins again, even without shopping. It’s a longing for the simplicity we perceive in the tidy magazine photos that drive us to consume these images and concepts. But paradox that runs this deep can’t be sustained forever, I believe. Eventually we’ll learn that not buying stuff in the first place is a new kind of freedom.

Until then, there’s Ikea.