|It's tidy, so I'm probably writing...|
Last Saturday I made a flying visit to our local independent bookshop and handed the sales assistant a box. 'I hope it's some use...' I said, before dashing back to my car that was on double yellow lines. Inside the box was an antique typewriter that we'd bought at a jumble and stored in the loft ever since. The shop has a quirky display of vintage models and I happened to know they were looking for more.
I guess we could have sold it, but then we probably never would...
Malcolm Gladwell's latest podcast series begins with two episodes that explore the compulsion of museums to horde their collections. In many cases they have so many items in storage they haven't even catalogued their worth, let alone shown them to the public. The idea of giving away items that might be of more value to others is anathema to their thinking. Gladwell calls it dragon psychology after Smaug in The Hobbit, who sat on a mountain of gold.
I don't have treasure to spare, but I do have a surplus of 'stuff'. In this regard, I'm no different to most people of my age and status. Actually, that's probably not true, for as Jane points out, we're pretty ruthless at sorting and disposing. She likes to remind me that at our last house move the removal people were disappointed at how little we had for the size of the property. In the end, we hired a van and did the job ourselves.
Six years later and we're relocating again, this time to a cottage we've owned for three decades but will now be our permanent home. Space is at a premium and I'm continually thinking of what to leave, what we need; what to pass on or sell? We're in no rush, says Jane—after all, we haven't yet put our current house on the market.
But that would be missing the point.
For I know that my compulsion to sort and simplify is something much deeper. In part, it's a stress thing (don't let anyone tell you that moving home is easy); whenever pressure mounts my first response is to make lists of tasks and chores, working to a pedantry that borders on obsession. It's part creative too: my writing process invariably sees me sorting and stacking before I sit down to work; too much in my head and I can't find the room for words.
Which is relevant, but not sufficient explanation for how I feel. There's more going on that I'm still working through and it's to do with age and aesthetics. This summer I turn 60 years old, a landmark that was always for others... as if!
But if it were for me, then in my mind it was connected to retirement and security and having everything I needed and all I'd acquired around me to enjoy. Yet here I am with a desire for less, for a freedom that comes with simplicity; a want to let go and let fly.
If only it were that simple.
The objects we gather around us are important, said my friend the author Jan Fortune. She's right, and on this blog I've written often of the collections and belongings that have meaning and significance to my life. At the other extreme are those possessions we acquire without much thought and even less care: our kitchen cupboard has two shelves of beer glasses from a party I can't remember—I don't even drink anymore!.
If these examples are obvious, the more difficult bit is the stuff in between: the items of putative value; the gifts it feels wrong to throw out; the pictures I painted and the boxes of toys... the bikes that hold memories of miles long past...
Which is perhaps, the operative word.
These items and their memories are part of my history. I don't need five bikes (I'd use two at most), nor for that matter three kayaks or all the paintings I'll never hang on a wall. And yet, to let them go feels like giving up a part of me; as if by holding onto the object I'm somehow not 60, but all my ages. It's nonsense of course, but powerful nonsense nonetheless.
And so, what to do?
Last year I read a great deal about minimalism; there's a popular documentary on Netflix of the same name. But the reduction of my possessions to a bare minimum is not for me—apart from anything else, there are my books to think of, and frankly, Jane's wishes too. More to the point, I like having good things around me: they bring me pleasure and enrich my life.
And isn't that what matters most? If it makes my life better, either through use or love, or even significant worth then I shall keep it; if it doesn't, then it's become the equivalent of Smaug's gold—like an artefact in a vault with a curator who doesn't care. These items are possessing me not the other way round—they should go and preferably to a home where their presence is valued.
An old friend used to photograph her paintings to capture the memory, before burning them to clear the space for new ones. Maybe this should be my modus operandi. That's a term most usually associated with criminal behaviour, hardly the 'stuff' of giving 'goods' away. But then I like contradictions, almost as much as I do consistency... which is itself a perplexing thought... and one that for now, I shall let go too.