Requiring a cup of coffee, I open the cupboard and contemplate my choice of mug, quickly realising there is only one I am allowed to use. It is my least favourite. The one that reads, “Hello … Is it tea you’re looking for?”, with a picture of Lionel Richie’s grinning face. I take it down with a grumpy sigh. The rest of the mugs on the shelf are beautiful things, but off limits because they are the personal property of my daughters, and therefore sacred vessels for their lips only.
I shout up the stairs to my offspring. “I’m making a new rule,” I tell them. “You are only allowed two mugs or cups each in the kitchen cupboard. Otherwise I can’t fit any of my own on the shelf and I never have anything nice to drink out of.”
They look aghast. “Can’t we have four each?” Lily asks.
“Three?” Megan tries.
“Two!” I tell them. “You’ll have to keep the others in your rooms. You can rotate or something.”
“But have you seen our rooms?” Lily wails.
I have. They look as if Aladdin and Father Christmas have been doing joint retail therapy. Megan’s resembles a tightly packed furniture storeroom. Lily has a thing for bedspreads and antique quilts, but has a single bed; so she has hung covers on her wall and wardrobe doors. It is claustrophobic in the summer, and a year-round magnet for dust. Then there are the cushions. Piles of them. Walking across her room in bare feet is a delight, each step a squidgy, soft experience. But if you drop something, you will never find it.
The girls, both in their mid-20s, are gripped by a mania for household possessions, swooning over rugs and mirrors, electric kettles and teapots. Bright, shiny new stuff keeps appearing in our house. “Stop buying things,” I tell them. “We have nowhere to put it! Can’t you sell it, or give away some of this clutter?”
“It’s not clutter. It’s for our flat,” they protest.
“The one we’ll move into one day.”
“Soon,” Lily says firmly.
They are at that age when a yearning for one’s own place to furnish and decorate can take hold: a need to develop individual taste, make a home. A nesting instinct. The problem is that my adult children are still living with us, and their possessions are spilling out of their bedrooms. The clutter is making me itch. I contemplate ringing storage units to get quotes.
Their brother Jake, whose room isn’t much bigger than a broom cupboard, is also busy acquiring stuff for the flat he will one day move into. He is collecting musical instruments. He has already crammed an electric keyboard and several guitars into his tiny space.
I reel back in horror when he lugs a secondhand electric drum kit into the kitchen. But he assures me that he can play it on “silent”, and persuades me it will fit in the hall. He assembles the kit with excitement. It completely blocks the path to the stairs. We have to squeeze around it, kicking the kick drum, clattering the hi-hat with our elbows as we scramble past. At least, I reassure myself, it won’t be noisy when he plays.
At first I don’t understand what the weird thumping sound is reverberating through the floor. It turns out to be Jake’s “silenced” drumsticks bashing away. The kit is banned. Jake won’t part with it, because, of course, he will be able to use it in his hypothetical flat, where his presumably tolerant new flatmates won’t mind a bit.
It is packed away into the only space left in the house – behind the sofa pressed up against the floor-length curtains. “See – you won’t even know it’s there,” Jake says. He is right. Except for every time I draw the curtains, when I must climb on top of the sofa, balancing precariously on the back in order to tug them across dusty snares of folded metal.
It occurs to me that when the kids do eventually move out, they will be taking half the contents of the house with them. But I think Ed and I are ready to release our inner minimalists.
Some names have been changed