This is a riff on clutter. There is nothing minimalist about my study. Books everywhere. I’ve run out of shelving space so now they sit on the never-used heating unit, on the floor, on the bed. I went through a teddy-bear thing years ago and began a collection, then turned to poodles, but poodles are hard to come by so I only have a collection of three, plus one deceased, plus Barney Poodle who clutters the floor next to my Story Dogs gear in the corner.

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Below is another corner of my cluttered study. The puppet I bought in a moment of madness at an Asian shop in Melbourne’s north. Sometimes he frightens me, standing there in his corner, but I can’t give him away because I bought him on a day when I sat in a sunny café courtyard with a lovely friend and throwing away that puppet would be like throwing away the sun.

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When I write in a richly cluttered space—my study, a café, a library, in bed surrounded by books—my mind fairly trips over itself with ideas and outpourings and outrageous possibilities, with twists and turns and bright colours, and passionate, reckless people. Audacity and clutter go hand in hand, I decide as I’m riffing along, whereas when I write in a minimalist space, my ideas are pared back and, to be honest, those ideas often need a good dose of prunes.

Literary minimalism may be all well and good, striving as it does for an economy of words with a focus on surface description and the little games it plays with the reader in allowing us to take an active role in creating the story: I like all that.

But I prefer to start with clutter and pare back to a lesser state, and increasingly I pare back less and less. Blame Elena Ferrante for that.

To di-riff for a moment: I’ve just finished reading, Graham Swift’s ‘Mothering Sunday’ and you don’t get much more minimalist that that: I have just loved that book. A place for both of course.

Still, it’s the rooms in which literature is created that interest me in this riff. When I look at photographs of those glorious English and American interiors, I wonder about this modern Australian Ikean minimalist obsession with cold white walls and glass and bare floorboards and spare furnishings. I wonder how you live in a space like that; how it feeds your soul?

Where did minimalism come from? These days there’s no putting on the coat and heading off to the library, sorting through stacks and leafing through books to find the answer to that. These days it’s press a key and there’s Mr Google who is absolutely cluttered with clutter and has an answer for everything.

And, yes, just as I thought: architectural minimalism originated in Japan. Its credo is ‘Less is More.’ ‘Less is Better.’ Hhhmmm. I riff on.

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Is there anything as wonderful as this table belonging to the famous Babette, set with china and glass, silver and candles, and with enough cutlery pieces to leave you confused for choice? So much nicer than a tray in front of the telly. (Though probably not every night!)

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This is Margaret Olley’s living room. Now, there’s a woman who loved a bit of clutter. And how she painted that clutter with the greatest perspective and balance.

A friend recently introduced me to a blog called ‘Have Some Decorum’. It’s written by a funny, talented young woman who is dying from a terrible illness. She will soon be using eye-tracking software to keep writing her blog and every post is just full of beautiful clutter. (Check her out here: http://havesomedecorum.blogspot.com.au/2016/06/who-you-callin-tart.html)

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This is a room that I found on her blog. Imagine writing in this room! After I got over my overawed-ness, I might even write The Next Great Novel. (Or would I find my inner Barbara Cartland? Let’s not go there!)

Thinking about this funny, witty, irreverent woman dying at such a young age, made me think about dying in a bare hospital ward, or at home surrounded by loved ones and a clutter of meaningful things. I’m sure the ‘Have Some Decorum’ woman will choose the latter. I hope I can too.

I love the familiarity and comfort of clutter. I love the colour of clutter. I love the richness and randomness of cluttered interiors. Am I talking human, literary or architectural? Who cares!

I rest my riff. Clutter is a rich expression of a rich soul.

 

Definition of Riff: music: a short and usually repeated pattern of notes in a song: a short set of comments on a particular subject. Short for riffle: first known use, 1948.

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