an open letter … on decluttering
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.
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.