Since returning from holiday some days ago, I have been assessing my immediate surroundings, and coming to the conclusion that I have Too Much Stuff. This is a familiar pattern; whenever I come home after a spell away, my home always appears to be teetering on the brink of clutter-overload (I wrote about it here after a previous summer holiday).
Our house is small, with poor storage, and I am a maximalist. The kitchen is a fine example. My dresser (it is 'my dresser' not 'the dresser') is piled high with crockery, serving dishes, mugs and jugs; the cupboards underneath are stuffed with kilner jars, empty jam jars (surely handy for something?), and pretty tins (purpose yet to be decided). The kitchen shelves are filled to capacity (and slightly beyond) with cookery and baking books. The food cupboards are packed to the gunnels with food staples; pasta, rice of every description, tins, and packets. The baking cupboard has enough flour, spices, flavourings, dried fruit, and chocolate to bake a hundred cakes.
I have something of a siege mentality when it comes to the kitchen. When I was young, and we lived in the far north of Scotland, it was very important to be well stocked with food. The nearest shops were 17 miles in one direction, and 21 miles in the other, and in the winter we were often snowed in for weeks at a time. Bulging cupboards and freezers were a necessity to see us through these times. I have never managed to shake off the habit of laying in stores for the winter. As soon as the temperature drops in October, I start filling the cupboards with long life milk, and tinned and dried goods, much to my husband's amusement. My parents were hoteliers, so providing plentiful food for hordes of people was ingrained in their behaviour, and some of that passed on to me. I operate on the proviso that food for the masses may be required at a moment's notice, and I must be prepared at all times for this eventuality.
My wardrobe is another area where clutter accumulates. I am only moderately interested in clothes, and I do not have a huge shoe or hand bag collection (if only!), but I do have two distinct wardrobes: fat, and not fat. The difference is about two and a half stones, which I gain and lose in a roughly three yearly cycle, with much accompanying misery. That is a story for another day, however it does mean that I have many more garments than someone whose weight is stable. Within these sets of clothes there are distinct winter and summer wardrobes, which I rotate between my bedroom and the loft, seasonally. That's a lot of clothes. Too many, in fact, yet I find it hard to dispose of garments that have seen better days.
In addition to providing for both my fat and non-fat self, another reason for keeping clothes longer than I should, is an ingrained anxiety about not having the resources to replace them. This stems from the many years of (comparative) poverty that Derek and I have lived through. I am talking strictly first world poverty here, nothing dramatic, but a budget for clothes was simply not available at various points in our lives together; most recently during the last recession, when I didn't (couldn't) buy any new clothes, at all, for five years. So now, even though we are no longer in that impecunious state, there is a small learned fear associated with getting rid of even worn out clothes.
However, I am able to overcome these irrational thoughts with a little conscious effort, and always feel mightily refreshed when I do eventually have a wardrobe purge, so the other day, armed with a roll of black bin bags and mug of tea, I had a ruthless clear out of bobbly jumpers, tired jeans, unflattering dresses and what I loosely refer to as 'dog walking clothes'. I still ended up with a bag for the loft labelled 'Do not currently fit' (note the optimism inherent in that phrase), but many garments were packed up for the charity shop, and others for the rag bag donation container which sits outside the village community centre.
Next task, the bookshelves. Books are so close to my heart that I find it terribly difficult to objectively decide which to keep, and which to lose. I constantly accumulate books, regarding a new book as one of life's greatest, and simplest, luxuries. However, as a result I am faced periodically with overflowing bookshelves. I refuse to have books seeping on to the floor in tottering piles, so roughly once a year I need to straighten my shoulders and tackle the job. Certain books I will never part with, but paper backs I have read once, and know I will not re-read, I am able to let go; cookery books I have picked up second hand, and found less than useful I can re-donate without a pang, plus the occasional clanger I have bought at full price (ouch). My 'to read' pile becomes a 'will I ever read?' pile, and usually a few of those go too.
Despite my initial reluctance to have a clear out, I always warm to the task, and rarely miss clothes, books, or other items I donate to the charity shop (though I do recall one slightly over zealous clothing purge when I spent the following week skulking round Oxfam waiting to buy back two skirts I had too hastily discarded).
I do also have a horror of hoarding, and inwardly tremble at the thought of becoming an old lady shuffling in broken down carpet slippers through piles of old newspapers, lidless plastic containers and broken toasters in a fly infested house (dramatic, moi?) which vision is usually sufficient to send me scurrying for the bin bags.
More seriously, I also need a bit of head-space to think through a wardrobe or cupboard (or room) clear out. During term time, day to day life is simply too hectic to take time for extra tasks, especially those which initially create more, not less, mess. The christmas holidays are not the time to do anything requiring such psychological effort, but during the long summer holiday days, I am able to take the few hours I need to make a difference, and always feel so much better, and psychologically lighter, when I do.
Do you find it hard to let go of possessions? Are you are clear eyed Clearer Outer, or a misty eyed, just in case Keeper? I would love to know.
(The photographs in this post are close up shots of Isaac's quilt. I finished the quilting on holiday, and have only the binding to do. All being well I should finish it next week, when I will post more photographs and report on Isaac's thoughts about it.)