Once upon a long ago, it was acceptable for Anthony Powell to assert that "books do furnish a room". Nowadays, though, he'd probably have some twunt from daytime television telling him that books are not furniture, but clutter, and forcing him to hawk the lot at a car boot sale so he could buy something really important and useful, like a sunbed, nose hair perming equipment or a boob job for his 12 year-old nephew.
Clutter is, apparently, one of the evils of the modern age, and, as such, is to be purged mercilessly. Minimalism is the way forward. We must all downsize like mad, or risk ending up like poor old Mr Trebus on A Life of Grime. In 2007, having even a modest display of gewgaws and trinkets is likely to elicit patronising suggestions that you're "a bit of a hoarder", with 'hoarder' quite clearly being a synonym for 'psychopath in waiting'.
The problem, for me, is one of definition. Clutter, to me, is rubbish, or something that is not used and is not likely to ever be used. Everything else is stuff, and having stuff can be life-enhancing. A casual observer would probably regard the contents of my house as 80% clutter, while the lifestyle Nazis from the telly would almost certainly bung the lot in a skip, and arrange for me to be put in one of those jackets that fasten from the rear.
For example, with all world knowledge available at the end of an Internet connection (Ronnie Hazlehurst wrote Reach by S Club 7 - FACT!), what's the point of anyone apart from the British Library keeping a copy of the 1951 edition of Radio and Television Who's Who?. However, that very volume proved itself to be stuff, not clutter, earlier today, when a friend contacted me asking if I knew anything about an old entertainer called 'Izzy Bond'. I replied that she meant music-hall and radio personality Issy Bonn, and I was then able to scan and send her his entry from my 56 year-old celeb directory. When I've had a bit of a rummage later, I should also be able to send her a copy of one of his cartoon strips from the comic Radio Fun. Meanwhile, the BBC.co.uk website has just ditched its online version of Mark Lewisohn's admirable, exhaustive Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy in favour of vague, inaccurate ramblings by clueless hacks not fit to hold Lewisohn's coat while he pores through the PasBs at Caversham. A bloody good job, then, that I kept my original copy of the Lewisohn book.
I've seen apparently decent people get twitchy upon crossing the threshold of Cheeseford Towers. I know what they're thinking. What's he got one of those for? Wouldn't this room be nicer with nothing in it? Why am I having to walk sideways? Will I catch something life-threatening if I accept a cup of tea?* In return, I get really, really twitchy in minimalist dwellings, but I accept the owner's right to live as they wish. Unfortunately, there is no such reciprocal agreement. The anti-clutter brigade are utterly, sickeningly convinced of their correctness, and feel no compunction in banging on about it. It also depresses me beyond measure that the punters on shows like Flog It and Cash In The Attic are usually selling rather lovely things for two-tenths of sod all to fund something with no lasting effect whatsoever. The proverbial birthright/mess of potage deal, piped into your house every morning. Well, it's time that someone stood up for stuff, people who like living amongst it and who wouldn't rather have the money. Cometh the hour, etc.
So, building a maze of tunnels out of discarded gas bills is clutter. Books are stuff. Records are stuff. Magazines can be stuff, although each has to be judged on its merits. Newspapers are best clipped and kept in scrapbooks, or else left to the miserable, but necessary experts at Colindale. Somewhere between Mr Trebus and the Hempel, there's a path for those of us who regard an empty house as a representation of what's between the occupier's lugholes.
* The respective answers to these burning questions, by the way, are 'because I like it', 'no it wouldn't', 'because you're a mipsy prannet' and 'with any luck, yes'.