A few things collided over the past few weeks, as they do when you notice connecting dots. I read an article on the difficulty of clearing and cleaning a relative’s house when they’ve passed on. How do you know what is important and not, when all you can see is stuff?
Diana Athill (one time editor of books, now a revered author of blisteringly good books) said moving into a home into her 90s was a difficult decision for her too:
I came home, sat down in my little sitting room, looked round at the magpie’s nest of beloved things accumulated in a long lifetime, and felt: “But this is me.” The extent to which a personality depends on the space it occupies and the objects it possesses appeared to me at that moment overwhelming. How could I perform an act of what amounted to self-destruction? The answer was: I can’t! I can’t and I won’t, I’d rather die.
She expands on the decision further than that one paragraph. It reminded me of both being an Army Wife and emigrating from the UK. Since 2000 I’ve had (hang on *counts on fingers*) twelve addresses(?), I think.
Packing up the flat in Portsmouth to move to Melbourne took a while, Hubs and I slowly worked our way through our belongings, selling, gifting, donating. We eventually shipped to Oz around 20 boxes, carefully cataloging what was in each in case the boat sank on the way over, (most reassuring when you’re packing prized possessions). At the bottom of each box was a layer of books, amongst my treasures: a boxed set of Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series, a boxed set of Harry Potter, books my grandparents had given me.
Before I even started packing my books, I culled and culled and culled. Had I grown out the book? Had I finished with it? Had it finished with me? Over a period of months, I got my book pile down to what I simply could not bear to be without. Knowing I could always replenish books if they found me again, a good example: Perfume, brought once, lent, never returned; brought again, put in the discarded pile from the UK; brought again for Book Club, so now firmly hanging onto it. Mind you, that’s not quite as bad as finding a book in the Oxfam charity shop in Winchester that I’d picked up as I’d not read it in ages; opening it up to read on the bus on the way home, I found my name in it.
Any-hoo, a few weekends ago, Hubs and I had words. Nothing major, but given the cleaners had only been two days earlier, instead of dusting or vacuuming to clear my head, there wasn’t anything to clean. Dang, looks like I won’t get any cross cleaning done for the foreseeable future. Looking for something to work through, I turned to my bookshelves, my magpie’s nest. Reaching up for books I now needed to pass on, I cleared almost a shelf.
Do you remember this scene from Labyrinth? (Let’s just pause a second to think about David Bowie *sigh*). When I first watched the film, this scene actually scared me. I’m not sure if it was the old woman herself; or recognising that by walking back into her old room and life, Sarah saw the toys and dolls on her shelf, but she was now older and wiser from her journey. Thinking about David Bowie again, this film was a pivotal part of my growth from girl to teenager.
I mercilessly donate things and items I am no longer using, or in some cases, no longer liking. If I’ve been given something, I do try to re-gift it where I can and if it’s appropriate, but sometimes you just need to “Let it go”, (updated as the original link was down) or this version too is also great fun. Stuff, things and baggage weigh you down. Often people feel obliged to hang on to some piece of plastic tat that they’ve been given, in fear of offending the person who gave it to you. But in that case, do you own your things, or do they own you? I brought Marie Kondo’s book earlier this year, her only criteria for keeping anything, and I mean anything – is does it bring you joy?
I love tiny houses, I am particularly in love with the Enesti from the Tumbleweed company. But I know, no matter how much I pare back my belongings, without books physically around me, it’s a house, not a home. Books bring me joy far more than a plastic nick-nack ever could.