Decluttering was a fad that took hold in 2019, and a lot of impressionable people decluttered. I'm very glad I didn't get sucked in. What are all those people going to do now with their two weeks of COVID-19 self-imposed isolation at home?
Some of you may not be aware of the decluttering "minimalist" movement. The so-called "KonMari method" was a system of "simplifying and organising your home" by getting rid of physical items that "do not bring joy into your life". It was created by misguided organising consultant Marie Kondo and described in detail in her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Back in my Defence days, I travelled to Denmark with my boss for him to sign a security agreement between Australia and Denmark. While in Copenhagen, we were invited to our host's house. I was surprised to find it bereft of pictures and photographs and any sort of memorabilia. His proudest possession was his worm farm. I determined then that I would never live in such sterile surroundings.
By contrast, I have lots of paintings on the walls, boxes of old correspondence, thousands of books, memorabilia from my travels and work, and lots of mysterious boxes to unpack.
I say mysterious, because some of those boxes were packed during my army service and have not been unpacked since about 1980. I have no idea what's in them.
Whatever you do, don't declutter. If in doubt, put it in a box for 30 years and then see if it brings you joy.
Other boxes were packed in 1990, when my family went on posting to America. We did not take anything with us except two suitcases because we planned to leave the plane in Los Angeles and drive across America to Washington, buying what we needed for a furnished rented house when we got there. In any case, our Australian electrical appliances were not going to be any use because Americans use 110 volts and 60 cycles, different wall plugs, and screw-in light bulbs.
In America over a three-year period, we accumulated another household of stuff, most of which was shipped back after the posting. However, because of various issues, much of it went into storage as well.
Eventually, all three groups of boxed items came together in 1995 and got accommodated in a studio and two lock-up garages.
With all the COVID-19 workplace disruptions, and not being able to travel overseas, I have finally started to go through the boxes.
Needless to say, I could happily fill my time for at least a year cataloguing books, going through old floppy disks, sorting out photographs, repairing and renovating things, reading old correspondence, and travelling down memory lane.
Some items do not fill me with joy, and will go to auction and the Salvos, but there's a lot of interesting stuff I'd forgotten I had and am very pleased to see again.
Over the years I have collected lots of different and unusual items. They may have no great monetary value, like my collection of military and police hats from organisations I have worked with over the years.
Then there is my "terrorismabilia" I collected between 1975 and 2015. It once featured on the ABC's Collectors program. It too has no great monetary value, but includes rare security posters, counter-terrorism pamphlets, action figures of Osama Bin Laden, George Bush, Seal Team Six, and so on.
Many times while working in Defence I was aware of items being thrown out because someone did not appreciate their potential historical value. On one occasion a senior NCO was sent "to tidy up" one of the Directorate of Military Intelligence's vaults, and dumped all our records of Japanese POW interrogations in the classified waste.
Subsequently, the National Archives' decision to charge Defence for classified storage also led to a lot of historic intelligence material being dumped to avoid storage fees.
However, during one of our Defence Security office moves, I managed to save a pile of old files from a 1950s espionage case at Woomera.
At the time, I had the authority to downgrade classified material, so I reviewed them and downgraded them from Secret to Unclassified. I gave them to the National Archives - where they can now be viewed by researchers.
I think it important for young people joining an organisation to know it has a proud history, and relevant historical items should be put on permanent display in the organisation's offices and meeting rooms. But it's not something we do well.
While I was in Washington, the British intelligence authorities set up a Bletchley Park exhibition at the Pentagon to commemorate 50 years of UK-US intelligence co-operation - and to subtly remind Americans it was the British who had taught them signals intelligence.
I thought we could provide a display the following year (1993) to remind Americans about our very close imagery intelligence relationship since 1943. Needless to say, my odd proposal got no support from Canberra.
Anyway, to return to that idiotic decluttering movement - whatever you do, don't declutter. If in doubt, put it in a box for 30 years and then see if it brings you joy - or not. Just remember, an item gotten rid of in haste may never bring you joy again.
- Clive Williams is a visiting professor at the ANU's Centre for Military and Security Law.