an open let­ter … on de­clut­ter­ing

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­reed@gmail.com

You will have to ex­cuse me if I ap­pear evan­gel­i­cal on this mat­ter. But, like a wretched heretic who has been born again, un­shack­led from the earthly lim­its of their non­be­lief, like a Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness whose pri­mary work it is to go from house-to-house, dis­sem­i­nat­ing their doc­trine, I feel the need to preach, to con­vert.

It’s been a jour­ney I first touched on in Jan­uary, when I urged you to take 2017 by the horns and cull, cull, cull. Then last week I men­tioned a task I have been beaver­ing away at for months now: or­gan­is­ing what I like to think of as our at­tic, al­though that im­plies a charm­ing room of rafters, dormer win­dows and an­cient tea chests, when in truth it’s all prickly pink bats, wan­der­ing wires and flakes of filth. The — and dear Robyn, who wrote re­cently com­plain­ing that my “choice of words still got up [their] nose”, you, espe­cially, will have to for­give me here, but I’m afraid noth­ing else will suf­fice — shit, yes the ut­ter shit we had ac­cu­mu­lated up there, for years shov­ing up any­thing too hard to make a de­ci­sion about, from our chil­dren’s art to an an­tique cham­ber pot, over­whelmed me. Out of sight, out of mind, said my hus­band, a man who ini­tially hood­winked me into think­ing we were equally sys­tem­atic, when re­ally his idea of a sys­tem con­sists of dump­ing 43,756 emails into a file at year’s end and call­ing it “2017”. No, I said, it’s hang­ing over us like a cloud of crap, threat­en­ing to open its bow­els upon our heads at any mo­ment. And so, in a first for us when it comes to this fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence in cer­e­bra­tion, we came up with a plan. We would buy a bunch of Sis­tema tubs of vary­ing sizes, la­bel them, e.g. Me­gan’s Spe­cial Box, Camp­ing Bed­ding etc., and ev­ery week­end he would haul down a few arm­fuls of the crap which, if keep­ing, I would file into the ap­pro­pri­ate tub, and he would then heave back up. Be­cause we only ever tack­led a small pile at a time, we were never swamped. It’s taken us al­most six sooty months of groan­ing and grunt­ing, of cough­ing and stream­ing noses, but, on Sun­day, the job was done. There is still work: 120 litres of pho­tos to sort, how­ever, be­cause they are now all in one place, and I feel em­bold­ened to turf out any­thing not in fo­cus, or that doesn’t have in it at least one per­son we know by name, it feels do-able.

I can­not em­pha­sis enough, read­ers, how won­der­fully ju­bi­lant this process has made me feel. The Swedish, who like most good Scan­di­na­vians seem to have a more civilised ap­proach to life than the rest of us, call it “dostad­ning” or death clean­ing. The prin­ci­ple be­ing that in mid­dle-age you start de­clut­ter­ing, a course of con­dens­ing you main­tain for the rest of your days, so that when you go there is left but a small, care­fully cu­rated col­lec­tion of your be­long­ings for your loved ones to deal with as they see fit. Twice, my hus­band and I have been landed with a life­time’s worth of some­one else’s ac­cu­mu­la­tions, and I now think it is deeply self­ish to do other than to rid your­self of your own things as you go.

FOL­LOW­ING ON

A mem­ory was re­vived for John by last week’s col­umn on touch’s ca­pac­ity to change cir­cum­stances. “About 10 years ago, just be­fore re­tir­ing, I was do­ing a lo­cal anaes­thetic list in my rooms, helped by a par­tic­u­larly warm­hearted nurse, when an 86-year-old woman was next. For some rea­son I can­not re­call, in­stead of help­ing me, my nurse sat and stroked the old lady’s arm the whole time. Af­ter­wards she made a spe­cial ef­fort to thank my nurse with tears in her eyes. She said, ‘I haven’t been touched like that for over 10 years.’ It was so sad but I am sure it’s a very com­mon sit­u­a­tion.” Bill was re­minded of the last time he vis­ited his fam­ily home. “Mum had been nag­ging me to chuck out all my old let­ters and cards, so I dragged the box out. It was like a time ma­chine, be­ing in­stantly trans­ported back to those dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods, of hap­pi­ness, sad­ness, love, breakups, yearn­ings ... I put all the ge­nies back in the bot­tle, never to be re­opened.” Ac­tu­ally Bill’s let­ter re­minded me that it is not only par­ents who sad­dle their chil­dren with stuff.

I think it is deeply self­ish to do other than to rid your­self of your own things as you go.

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