The good news is we are moving. The bad news is this means an estate agent is coming to take HD pictures and video of the confined space in which four maximalist slobs have spent the pandemic year.
“How H is this D exactly?” I ask my husband, gesturing around the kitchen at the stupid fruit flies banging into each other above a teetering stack of takeaway condiment sachets. All surfaces are covered with generic household rubble, Lakeland catalogues promoting storage solutions we definitely need and bank statements demonstrating why we can’t get them. He is poised by the back door, coiled, ready to pounce when the overdue recycling truck empties the communal bins. Next to him is a stack of cardboard approximately his height, testament to several months of deliveries. “Extremely,” he says without taking his eyes off the yard. “I checked online – it’s horrible.”
“360-degree cameras are awesome,” the agent confirms. “But it does mean they see everything!” Forewarned, I try to see our pandemic derangement with the impassive eye of an HD camera, clocking 14 bags of assorted flours I ordered during a rumoured wheat shortage, my husband’s inexplicable lightbulb stockpile, T’s bedside jungle of plants and floor paved with oversized art books and L’s 47 Rubik’s cubes. Despite being markedly less fit since Covid, we have enough dusty fitness equipment to pass as a furloughed gym: resistance bands, weights, biking accessories, foam rollers, yoga mats and a Swiss ball no one, to my knowledge, has sat on. Instead, it pursues us through the house like the sinister orb from The Prisoner.
There is no time to do anything sensible, so I just hide everything, muttering ancestral curses centring on the kind of “never” and “always” phrases therapists discourage, with the weary certainty I will never see the scissors again. Most – from trays of seedlings to teaspoons – goes in T’s wardrobe, since as the older child he has the misfortune to be at work. There are batteries everywhere because we can’t recycle them: the dump is overrun with similarly afflicted people (the local paper reports regularly on “chaotic scenes”). Stuck at home, our frustrations are coming out in a collective compulsion to declutter while simultaneously recluttering.
We only moved here in 2018, and when we did, I know I gave and threw away piles of our possessions. Why have we accumulated so much again? I remember peering through the window of C&A on Oxford Street 20 years ago where the artist Michael Landy was destroying all his belongings in the performance piece Break Down. We had recently moved into our first flat and were enjoying acquiring the trappings of grown-up life: chairs, towels and plates. Landy’s gesture seemed shocking then; now getting rid of everything has a certain bleak appeal. It may be restful to live in the kind of brutalist cube Kevin McCloud calls “galvanising” and only own one cup.
When the estate agent arrives, we’re exhausted and scared to exhale near any cupboards, but as ready as we ever will be for our closeup. The recycling truck has been and our crimes against taste, hygiene and the planet are mostly temporarily concealed. “It’s so quirky!” the agent says, her expression unreadable behind her mask. She walks, taking notes, blue shoe covers rustling, until she spots the tortoise box outside our bedroom. “What …” her voice trails off. An ominous creaking emanates from it, indicating the residents, newly emerged from hibernation, are In the Mood for Love. The wardrobe seems unkind, so I shove the main offender outside with a dandelion bribe.
The next day the house hits Rightmove. I send a general WhatsApp instructing everyone to check T’s wardrobe before asking me where their stuff is, then click nervously on the video. The HD is indeed extraordinary and disgusting: I can see every saliva-stiffened fibre of the dog’s favourite ferret toy and count the sticky bottles of expired hot sauce; I can zoom in on a single sock and three batteries stuffed in my handbag. The agent has positioned a towel to conceal the tortoise orgy, but I swear I spot the Swiss ball twice.