Wednesday, April 28, 2021


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.


  1. We are trying to reduce Stuff too.. without the pressure of a move this time.

  2. Wow, right on, right on and right on. However after 7 years of living in a 40' yacht most of the things I had kept stored ashore, all those memory things among them, were able to be viewed rather more objectively when it came time to take them out again. On the yacht everything had to have 2 uses, or be essential for the one thing it did in order to be able to stay (the ironing board was an essential for two people working in professional employment). That kind of brutality with possessions enabled me to see much of what I had as just 'life's padding'. Never the less, I now have 2 guitars (that's surplus), 2 sewing machines (sewing machines are a weakness), and a hoard of 'stuff' that had the removal people telling us two years ago that they had never seen so much come out of a 2 bedroom house. I suspect little of what they were referring to actually came out of the house, and most of the volume was represented in sports equipment....(and wine...)
    Interesting what you say about stress - I sometimes stop myself in the middle of pulling stuff out of cupboards and ask myself to examine why I am doing this, as in doing this right now. There is usually a stress trigger.

  3. I find it hard to let go of things mainly because of the memories they hold. I try reminding myself that when I go things on my shelves - things which I may have brought back from Chinaor things given me by dear friends, or once owned by a parent will have no meaning - but it is still had for me to offload them.

  4. An enormous amount of my stuff is now finding its way to our local amenity site for reuse or recycling... or to the charity shops. When we finally get to move our new place will be so tidy!

  5. Hari OM
    I am one of life's natural declutterers. Akin to F's exprience, much of my early life was spent in a caravan and keeping things that did not serve purpose just didn't happen. For the most part I have maintained that. When I relocated from OZ to the UK it was another chance to release a lot of stuff - even stuff that had rationlised its stay in my life to that point, including some very worthy parts of my 'library'.

    I am in the process, since father's passing and finally being back fulltime in The Hutch, of sorting through stuff again. It's amazing what accrues over seven years without one even noticing. Mainly due to well-meaning relos thinking I 'need' to have stuff. I really don't. So there will be another sorting through and decimation over the next couple of months. Turning 62 earlier this week caused things to really cement... there will be nobody to sort out stuff at the end, so best not to have too much of it! There are some items that have intrinsic value so will need to be noted and labelled and pointed in certain directions. But mostly it is - when all is said and done - 'stuff'. YAM xx

  6. Our quick house sale (including contents) in France took us by surprise and we decided to move back to the UK with only the possessions we could get in the car and trailer. It was hard, we had to be very ruthless and I miss my books and old leather armchairs but we just couldn't justify the cost of a removal van. At the end of the day, as Yam says, it's only 'stuff'.

  7. We will be making one last move to our retirement property in a couple of years. We have to build the house first. When I downsize, I will have to get rid of things. That's going to be a tough thing for me, but, in the end, it is only stuff. The fact of it is that none of my children are interested in that stuff. I might as well see it off to good homes while I'm alive.

  8. There is often an emotional attachment to things. I collect.

  9. I have collected far too much over the years and now find downsizing such a chore.....and a lot of hard work!
    I find that adult children, for the most part, don't seem interested in old family 'stuff' - sad, but will make it a lot easier disposing of it all perhaps!
    The secret is perhaps moving house often! We've been in ours going on 40 years and have far too many things in the attic. Would be a treasure trove to some but just a load of "old stuff' to others who would rent a junk container, park it in the driveway and toss everything, lol!!!!

  10. My man and I are not planning on moving any time soon but as we are both about to turn 67, there is no doubt that at some time in the not-so-distant future, we will be making that great move beyond. And I, too, want to rid myself of so much that holds me down and weighs me down. Some of it will go easily enough. Things that I may have once been attracted to but no longer care a thing about. Then there are the other things- paintings by my uncle that no one wants. They aren't bad at all but they aren't of any real interest to me. The books, yes- so many books. Some I know I could not bear to part with, others that should just be let go. Even clothing can hold great sentimental attachment.
    It's a quandary, isn't it?
    I certainly don't think of myself as a hoarder but I know that I am, at least on some level, a keeper of things. And my husband? Oh, it's almost impossible for him to give up anything. In fact, he has so many interests that seem to require him to acquire more things.
    We need to work on this.

  11. We moved house this year. I would like to say that downsizing was easy but I would be lieing my back teefs out! Oh my goodness, the emotional attachment to so much of our "stuff" (ahem, especially books) made for an uneasy few months. The Pandemic meant that even trips to the Tip had to be choreographed, and I had to harden my heart and give boxes and boxes and boxes of books to charity shops. Sadly the one to benefit the most was the one I wanted to support the least, as the alternatives were closed.

    We just about managed to shoe-horn everything into our new house (less than half the size of our old farmhouse) but that emotional attachment to many of the books is still there and we still have a lot of pictures which need to be rehomed when we can start with antique fairs again. Builth Antiques Fair and Fleamarket will certainly be seeing the colour of our money for a pitch when it reopens . . .