Sunday, August 8, 2010

Calling Clutter Creative! (A Snoop Observation)

Once each week, our choir holds rehearsals in a member’s house.
This week, I didn’t only sing.
I snooped.

This house was the best specimen for the snoop assignment. It was a very small townhouse unit with two floors, and it’s just a stone’s throw away from our house in Mandaluyong. For the longest time, I’ve wished to put a handle to the “personality” if these owners, and I figured, this is the best way to do it. There were eight occupants in all: two choir members (the owners), an adopted ten-year-old boy with a learning disability, a yaya for the child, a labandera, a cook, a “personal helper” of one of the owners, and one in charge of the small “sari-sari” store inside their sala. They have businesses of their own too. One runs a tarpaulin printing shop, the other is busy with running a computer parts retail store in Makati.
Talk about clutter – they all barely have enough space to move in!
But that’s just the beginning.
Here’s the blow-by-blow “Sherlock Holmes” investigation that I did. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring my camera, and sneakily take pictures of the “crime scene”! I made my descriptions extra-juicy, though.  

First, you enter the house, and all you see is EVERYTHING.
When you take your first few steps inside, you have to maneuver yourself into the maze of the small sari-sari store which they put up to cater to the other townhouses. Racks and racks of chips, drinks, cooking oil, onions, carrots, eggs, even slippers, toiletries and bags are hung and sold to the neighbors. This is clearly an identity claim that shows independence, ingenuity and knowing how to answer to obvious and immediate needs.
As you step inside some more (which isn’t that far inside), you have this bulky canvas-upholstered couch against a wall littered with picture frames and memorabilia. They have a lot of pictures of themselves during their “thinner” days. Since the owners are choir members, a lot of the mementos are to remember their heyday in choir-life – tours, competitions, everything.
Inside the small living room (as in fit for five people, shoulder to shoulder), tons of magazines of countless subscriptions abound. If they’re not in the five-foot stack in the corner, they are on top of the big wooden chest at the center of the sala, just collecting dust. Another identity claim is the computer inside the living room. The wallpaper is the logo of their family business. Therefore, a clear “others-directed” identity of what they do. Then on the shelves by the staircase is a host of CDs of all artists you can think of. Most of them are minus-ones – if not bought, it’s personally arranged.
It’s basically the same clutter when you step into the dining room and the kitchen (notice the word “step,” because it’s really small and crowded). Surprisingly, the shoe cabinet is in the dining area; the refrigerator door is literally invisible because of the splash of magnets, notes, post-its, etc.; there is a tall floor lamp on the kitchen counter; Christmas d├ęcor are still on the walls, and containers and containers of food, nutritional supplements and weird-sounding herbal teas are stacked up in a dark corner. This may be some behavioral residue that indicates some lack of organization, wanting everything to be within reach, insecurity, and “peaceful chaos” (since they’ve lived with it for quite some time now).
Outside, are the maids’ quarters, and the washing area, which is, obviously filled with clothes and the “currently unneeded” objects.

If that was chaotic enough, you haven’t gone to the second floor yet!
There are three small rooms upstairs: a bedroom, a stockroom and a TV room. Let me just highlight some images which struck me.
Obviously the stockroom is their hiding place. Everything they bought from the hardware store, appliance center and the TV shopping channel are all there. They buy for a one-time use, and stock it up for the “future.” Boxes and boxes of music sheets are also the main feature of this room. We really haven’t had the time and the “courage” to compile all these pieces, because they’re simply daunting.
The TV room is a nice room. It’s comfortable, cool, and fits three to five people – exactly for the whole family. There are a lot of feeling regulators around, such as a stack of instrumental CDs, stuffed toys and pillows and a nice heavy curtain, which gives a feeling of coziness. There is also an oil burner which can spice up the air, and to top it all off, dimmers are also installed for the lights. Of course, just like any other adult, there are also a number of adult movies on the rack, but discreetly hidden in between random CDs to avoid detection – a behavioral residue which can speak volumes.
Finally, the bedroom also has its share of physical clues. There are two beds, a queen and a sofa bed, and they aren’t that neatly fixed. The comforter is ruffled along the edges, and the slippers are scattered by the bathroom door and under the bed. The clothes chute is filled to the brim, with some more clothes scattered around it. The bathroom itself has a host of bottles, deo sprays, toiletries and linens. It’s nice to notice that even though the bathroom is filled with unused bottles and whatnots, the choice of linens, toilet seat covers and products are rather top-of-the-line. You have a number of Watsons, Bench, and Body Shop products, also some imported ones. Their linens are also noticeably white – an indicator of “cleanness” somehow.

Being inside the house simply overwhelms me. I couldn’t really tell whether these owners have a knack for collecting things, or simply being at home with clutter. Judging from that, it is easy to agree that these people exude the Leonardo factor of OPENNESS. There have been a number of times when I find something interesting and end up asking it from them, but they would always have a reason to excuse themselves because they need it for “something else.”  It’s not that they’re selfish or anything, but I guess their resourcefulness for objects is so diverse. Any product developer can sell them anything, and profit from them! There are also hints of NEUROTICISM, because when I was doing my snoop tour, I could see the owner following me with his eyes and asking me why I was “extra observant!” He would lead me out of the rooms ever so quickly, and talk to me a lot!

It’s interesting to see such personalities emerge from these physical spaces. At first, I just thought of them as “hoarders” as we now know them, but eventually, I was able to appreciate how in observing one’s physical space, product developers, artists, and those in the design industry can learn a lot.
And finally, if I were to give them a gift, I would NOT give them another “useful something.” From now on, I’d give them FOOD! Anything as long as it’s edible! And I’d make sure that it’s either just a tiny dollop of something, or something SOO good. In both ways, it’ll be gone fast and painlessly.