More than a quarter of a century ago, my husband and I, with me proudly boasting a bump that would shortly become our firstborn, moved into what felt like a palatial, four bedroomed semi-detached house with a large garden, a garage and a shed!
We had moved from my tiny two up two down terraced house, and I remember that first night in the new pad, our few meagre possessions standing forlornly in just two of the rooms, wondering what on earth we were going to do with all that space.
Fast forward twenty six years, three more children and various pets and the house is now four rooms larger than it was when we bought it and a very great deal fuller. Whereas in the early days we had entire rooms with nothing in them at all, now I struggle to find space for a single new book on my shelves with having to jettison an old one.
But before I beat myself up too badly about this I have to be realistic. Accumulating stuff is just what happens as we tramp along life's highway. Clothes, books, no longer required but much-loved toys, endless mugs all with their own sentimental acquisition story, duplicated things, things that are too good to throw away but no longer in favour, things that well-meaning people gave but which never quite rang the right chord. My house, much like yours I hope, is full of it.
Until very recently there were six adults living here, each with their own detritus. It doesn't take long to pile up. (This may sound like an excuse but it's also a fact.)
For the sake of my own sanity, I need to address the issue and declutter.
So, as you might expect of a writer and an avid reader, first I bought a book about it. And before you start, I recognise the irony of that and so I bought it in digital rather than paper form. I felt like I needed some help with the hard bits, someone who could present me with a strategy that I could follow successfully.
'You do know it's ridiculous,' someone said to me. 'Wasting time reading a book on how to declutter when you could just spend the time decluttering.'
And they do have a point - kind of. But I've already done the easy bits. I've thrown away the Ikea plastic plates and the broken Barbie dolls, and the clothes that just weren't expensive enough to be saved as classics and the shoes that will always rub no matter how hard I wish that they didn't. That stuff is all gone. What is left is the hard part.
'And what is that?' I hear you cry. 'What is the hard part?'
Well, it falls into two categories.
The first is mainly about logistics, but to understand it you need to know about how I was brought up. I am the daughter of two war babies. They grew up with rationing and making good and mending. They didn't have the kind of disposable income that is almost seen as an entitlement these days. You saved for it, bought well, looked after it and fixed it if it broke. These are the values on which I was raised.
But I live in the 21st century where things are made with obsolescence built in and we are encouraged to change our soft furnishings almost as often as we change our knickers. As a result, I have lots of things that are perfectly serviceable but no longer required. I can't bring myself to just throw those away. But coordinating what to do with them when my life is already full to the gunwales seems to have found its way onto the 'too hard' square. And so the 'too good to throw away' stuff sits in cupboards and the roof space and the garage, just waiting for me to work out who it could be useful to. Another poor excuse I know, but no less true for that.
And finally there's the really hard stuff. First pairs of shoes. (And in some case second too because they were just so damn cute). Story books that we all enjoyed. (Not just a couple of them, but dozens and dozens because how are you supposed to choose?) School art projects that I've hung onto for so long that to throw them out now makes a mockery of all the years in which I have dusted them. Boxes of glitter, stick on goggly eyes, sugar paper. (Will I ever have arty grandchildren?) Music for countless musical instruments no longer played (but you never know when the urge might strike.) The instruments themselves.
It just goes on and on.
What do I do with the accumulated stuff of a quarter of a century of family life now that we're back down to two? The kids don't have room for it yet, but they pull a wistful face if I suggest it all goes to the tip. (So then you can add guilt to the emotional onslaught of dealing with it all.)
And so, faced with all these seemingly insurmountable problems, I continue to live in a house filled with too much stuff, and flounder about searching for solutions whilst doing pretty much nothing to make it better.
Answers on a postcard please!
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