We have conveniences that our great grandparents never enjoyed. But do dishwashers, microwaves and programmed coffeepots really compensate for the clutter of life in the 1990s?
When I was in elementary school, paper was treated with respect, as a precious commodity. Memos were done on a mimeograph machine. Because these notes were rare, each was read carefully. In school we also conserved paper, doing much work on the chalkboard rather than on individual work sheets. Now my children arrive home with enough academic work sheets and administrative messages to wallpaper all the new homes in a nearby development.
As I spoke with friends and colleagues, it became apparent that most felt overwhelmed with the bombardment of clutter. Are we wimps? Or are we merely suffering from magna-informed-populace syndrome (MIPS)? To reach an answer, I decided to tally my own albatross of clutter for just one month.
During that short period of time, the high school sent home more than 100 pieces of paper. The elementary school sent 61 pages of reading materials although some were duplicates since I have two children in the school. (Eight notices were sent home regarding Back-to-School Night, although none mentioned whether it was for parents only or included children, thus confusing numerous families.) My daughter's preschool sent home two informative booklets and various other flyers for a total of 71 pages of reading material. In addition, we received an abundant supply of papers from scouts, the 4-H club, soccer teams, and Sunday school classes.
But this was only the beginning of our mound of household clutter. Tucked in with those bureaucratic memos growing like dandelions within their backpacks were 56 pages of actual schoolwork papers. My preschooler is a virtuoso of fine art production and collection. She has, in just a few weeks, supplied us with a large stuffed fish, boards covered with shells, wood sculptures, paper hats, a homemade stapled bag, cloth collages, a 2-by-4-foot sheet of paper containing smeared footprints, 4 gallons of leaves, twigs, etc. collected during nature walks, and a life-size drawing of herself. This is in addition to the necessary quota of several "regular" art papers a day. How does the average household display or store such an abundance of beauty?
In aggregate, my typical American children provided 316 pages of important documents and 49 artistic items for my reading and viewing pleasure.
Not to be outdone, I have my own personal collection of excess papers. In case I don't get enough handouts from various committees, the U.S. Postal Service replenishes my supply six days a week. In one month, I received 21 business advertisements, a number of unsolicited catalogues and 19 requests for charitable donations. Even my necessary mail contains unnecessary components: extraneous pages of advertisements, and payment envelopes with bothersome appendages. Occasionally, someone has the audacity to inquire whether I have actually read their latest informative memo. When I took a speed-reading course many years ago, I never realized it was a necessary life skill for cursory reviews of all this clutter.
An extension of this paper clutter is the family refrigerator, which exists primarily to hold notes and artwork. We could never purchase a refrigerator with a water dispenser on the door because this would take up valuable space needed for display purposes.
Another clutter domain is the kitchen calendar, a nightmare of hieroglyphics. How can a 1-by-1-inch square contain all the cryptic information needed for school deadlines, medical appointments, social events and the ubiquitous meetings? The blame for this onerous clutter in life is two-fold. First, technological advances have made all this paper so convenient. Photocopies are inexpensive, computers make attractive flyers and print shops can make any project look glamorous. But more important, everyone has something to say and wants everyone else to know about it.
Maybe our great grandparents were wise to say: "Keep your thoughts to yourself" or "Silence is golden." As a member of the MIPS support group (another evening meeting with lots of informative handouts) I believe all this excess clutter is exceedingly excessive.