It’s done. I am now officially a gypsy.
It hasn’t been easy – but moving from house to van has given me a whole bunch of new insights about clutter. To mangle an old idiom, a static stone gathers most clutter. And I’ve been in the same house for 30 years.
So what that my daughter didn’t realise I was carefully hoarding several boxes full of her vet student notes, or that my son actually doesn’t want his once-loved comics – or scout badges. I kept them anyway.
Then there’s the weird but persistent sentiment that prompts me to treasure home-made birthday cards, precious artwork, report cards, carefully crafted wooden stuff that I’ve received (not just from children but grandchildren) over more years than the memento cupboard could cope with. And what about the letters – from lovers past, children grown, a father who is now with me only in memory? The photos that chronicle not just my own life but the lives of all those I hold dear?
They cling like a layer of psychic clothing. You rip it open at your peril – unleashing an avalanche of memories that stalk through the packing-it-all-up process like ghosts.
Here’s my mother – a lively young woman sitting at the wheel of Penelope Jayne – her much-loved Morris 8 convertible. Here, my daughter, remarkably similar in looks, proudly astride a be-ribboned pony. And me – just 22 and about nine months pregnant, belly button bursting, that short, enormous step from discovering the overwhelming love of motherhood that changes your life forever.
If you have none of these reminders, no clutter of mementos from times gone – do you still have a past? Neuro-science tells us that memory re-visited doesn’t have filing cabinet consistency – instead it is fluid, evolving as you call it up, re-processing through a brain plastic enough to shed old images like skin. How then to keep a reliable sense of your own history?
Photos, mementos, letters and a reduced supply of precious artwork go into a cleaner, bigger box. Luckily, my house has an attic. And it will be mine again in a year’s time.
Other clutter is work generated. Writing for a living is an excellent way to accumulate all sorts of research for stories written or still to write. Emptying the over-full filing cabinet unleashes a whole history of ideas – from the anatomy of leadership to the challenges of sustainable societies. Like the cavity left by a lost filling, they call for attention. Before you know it, your mind is drawn into exploring these old/new worlds of thought.
You drag it back. File things, throw things. Take more bags of paper to the tip.
Then there’s the finished articles. 100s of them. Do I really need to keep all these millions of once freshly minted words? My eyes drift helplessly across a piece written when I was editing a forestry magazine, pause, snap to attention. What’s all this about a vision-free government borrowing overseas financial models designed for much bigger economies and attempting a forced retro-fit to local conditions? Written some 15 years ago? Some things don’t change. And it reads well. Worth keeping as a reminder that unlearned history repeats like the aftermath of a baked bean fest.
I file the best, toss the rest. What’s left over still occupies a good chunk of filing space.
Although I’m not a big-time consumer, the travelling wardrobe presents another set of challenges. How to cull the clothing, take enough for four seasons – and fit it into two shelves plus a small corner of the van’s triple purpose closet/shower/toilet? Practical, adaptable, layerable garments are picked ahead of the rest. In Summer it seems silly choosing ski pants. But I can’t come back to get them. It turns out that over the next 12 months, I will have to make do with just two “good” outfits, one dress, 10 ‘tops’, six ‘bottoms’ and no more than four pairs of shoes (including hiking boots). There’s always op-shops!
As the time left to declutter and clean diminishes, the sentiment slips, rubbish bags fill faster. Friends come to help, table-tops are cleared and windows cleaned. One tells me I can now stop collecting shells. I have enough, she informs me authoritatively. The rooms take on a scrubbed new glow of clarity. One visitor notes that he hadn’t even spotted how cluttered the house was – until it had been cleared. Looks fantastic, he says approvingly.
So – with my old life packed into a small stack of boxes and new one tightly fitted into the snail home, I now have little choice but to live clutter free. I know it will be a challenge – after all, my cleaning unearthed enough buy-10-get-one-free book vouchers to indulge in at least two new novels. But I vow that now this stone is rolling, no clutter will have a chance to cling – and my life will look fantastic.