Thursday, December 21, 2006

Superficial is the New Intimate

The inside of my car smells like vomit. Which is strange, because to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever vomited in my car. Granted, I am the second owner, but I have had the car for six years, ample time for vomit stench to emerge from the depths of the upholstery.

Even weirder is that the day before I noticed the barfy smell my friend told me that her baby daughter had in fact puked all over the inside of her car and despite many scrubbings and applications of Febreeze, her car still reeked badly enough to raise a gag reflex. Perhaps I am experiencing a sympathetic sensory reaction? Perhaps while I was away for a few days last week, a passerby, feeling poorly, broke into my car for the purpose of retching into it as to not soil the sidewalk, then locked it up and walked away?

More realistically, there is probably something foul moldering in some dark corner that I haven't yet located. I've enjoyed the speculating but I know that it is probably something quite mundane like a fermenting piece of fruit, or a rotting half-sandwich. It could even be a string cheese that rolled under the passenger seat or a cup of coffee sporting an impressive beard of penicillin. For a second I was starting to feel a little bad about my slovenly ways, but I just ran across this article, chronicling the messy movement, if you will, extolling the virtues of messiness and clutter. It was there that I discovered that there are actually books (A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Freedman and Abrahamson) that discuss the "hidden cost of neatness," such as shame, family squabbles and money wasted on under-the-bed boxes.

I have to directly quote a portion of this article because it takes us so far beyond the "messy=creative"/"neat=boring" dichotomy, which is so unhelpful.
The success of the Container Store notwithstanding, there is indeed something messy — and not in a good way — about so many organizing options. “When I think about this urge to organize, it reminds me of how it was when Americans began to take more and more control of their weight: they got fatter,” said Marian Salzman, chief marketing officer of J. Walter Thompson and co-author, with Ira Matathia, of “Next Now: Trends for the Future,” which is about to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. “I never gained weight until I went on a diet,” she said, adding that she has a room in which she hides a treadmill and, now, two bags of organizing supplies.

“I got sick of looking at them so I bought plastic tubs and stuffed the bags in the tubs and put the tubs in the room.” Right now, she said, “we are emotionally overloaded, and so what this is about is that we are getting better and better at living superficially.”

“Superficial is the new intimate,” Ms. Salzman said, gaining steam, “and these boxes, these organizing supplies, are the containers for all our superficial selves. ‘I will be a neater mom, a hipper mom, a mom that gets more done.’ Do I sound cynical?”

An interesting question. Is emotional overload pushing us to seek containment, most easily found in physical containment of our material goods, to keep our internal chaos at bay?

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