I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but in the last week or so I’ve been hurtling about the house in a frenzy, clearing out cupboards, rationalising bookshelves, streamlining wardrobes. My home is looking as much like a showhouse as a Victorian cottage is ever likely to be.
On Wednesday, I spent about three hours sorting out my nine-year-old daughter’s bookshelves, alphabetizing the novels by author and sorting the non-fiction into classifications, as if her bedroom was a library. (You can call me Dewey.)
Today, I’ve spent best part of the afternoon clearing up my study – no mean feat by anybody’s standards, as you can see by the “before” photos here.
Though hard work at the time, it’s definitely worth the effort. I’ve long been a believer in the basic principles of Feng Shui (well, the lazy person’s version, that is – I don’t go in for all that purist business of deflecting poison arrows and hanging octagonal mirrors). It’s common sense that if you surround yourself with order rather than chaos, you will feel calmer and more in control of your life.
I’ve also always been fond of rearranging furniture and am constantly in pursuit of the perfect layout. A little bit too fond: I recently googled it to see whether it is a clinically labelled condition. (I didn’t find one – yet.)
I wonder whether my current urge for order stems partly from the new neighbours who are renovating the formerly derelict house adjacent to mine. They have transformed the place. Its shiny glowing newness puts my house to shabby shame. My previous next door neighbour was a recluse with a profound antipathy to DIY. He had a broken window at the back of the house that another elderly neighbour swore had not been repaired since the Second World War. He elevated procrastination to an art form. And he set a very low bar for any aspirations we might have had to keep up with the Joneses.
But the new neighbour’s renovations had been going on for some months before my latest round of compulsive tidying took hold. So maybe it was more a natural reaction to Christmas and a coping mechanism for absorbing the influx of Christmas presents into an already overflowing household.
There again, the imminence of my birthday (5 days to go and counting) may be a trigger. Do I need to prove to myself that I must make a difference to my environment before I get another year older?
But there’s another annual occurrence that I suspect is the trump card: the arrival of a certain green printed letter on my doormat. No, it’s not an early birthday card from the Wizard of Oz, nor a John Lewis credit card statement. It’s a reminder from the HMRC that self-assessment tax returns are due by the end of this month. And I really hate filling in my tax return.
This is no tidying bug – it’s tax evasion, Jim, but not as we know it.