If the colour supplements (Observer image on right) of late are to be believed the key to a happy life is to throw all your stuff away or at least to throw anything away that ‘doesn’t bring you joy’. It’s called de-cluttering and it’s supposed to deliver that feeling of lightness that I wrote about a few blogs ago. It is at this level that I was interested enough to read the various articles that, ordinarily, I would has passed over. Having read a couple I have to say I’m not convinced.
The concept of de-cluttering comes at an important time for us. First up we are retired and I can’t help thinking that I should have a different attitude to clutter than the one I seem to have had all my life. All this talk of a new life, becoming a new person, seems to suggest I should have taken a different perspective on clutter. That said, I’m not sure whether this should be clearing out or continuing to collect at a greater rate to somehow keep out the forces of evil that threaten us in our old age. I suppose that’s what’s going off with hoarders we hear so much about these days, they see their hoarded items as some kind of protection.In addition to this retirement business, three factors are synergistically combining to make, for us, a perfect storm of clutter. First, and I confess this to be the truth, we are both collectors in our own way. Let me blame Mrs Summerhouse first. She has a great and significant weakness for charity shop clothes. She does not buy expensive fashion items but boy what she lacks in quality she certainly makes up for in quantity. Her clothes are currently occupying three rooms, our wardrobe, our daughter’s room (also full of past items from her (our daughter’s) own life) and latterly the great fabric tide has spread to number one son’s room. So this is her contribution and it is mighty. She has done a reasonable job of throwing out her old work stuff but somehow the clothes collecting gene remains a powerful force. Yes, items go but they are swiftly replaced by new ones. The total never seems to get any less.
Any attempts to de-clutter for us have proved temporarily satisfying but not long-lasting. Take the garage, about which I wrote in a previous blog. From being almost empty (we eventually threw out the kitchen utensils from our daughter’s first long-term relationship, there have been two more since then, including the third and final instalment ending in marriage) it’s remorselessly starting to fill up again (see later in blog).
Then there is my contribution, it’s puny by comparison, but probably more noticeable visually. First there is my book collecting. I suppose we must have between two and three thousand of them in our various places and still I can’t resist a cheap book. And there are so many of them these days. I never throw any book away no matter how tattered and insignificant it might be. Occasionally people will look at our heaving shelves and say, have you read all of these? Most (i.e. technically over 50%) of them, is my usual reply. Has there ever been a better time to buy second hand books? OK all the second-hand bookshops have disappeared but charity shops (there’s those words again), car-boot sales, even our local pub sells them to raise money for the local cricket club, are unending sources of literature. I rarely pay more than £1. Often 50p, I’ve long since filled all our considerable number of shelves and now the books rise higher and higher in stacks on the ground.
A friend of mine, who died a couple of years ago, left me some of his cricket books. I told his widow I just wanted one book to remember him by but she insisted I have a box full. He would have wanted you to have them. How can you say no to that? So now there’s another pile on the study floor. I have kept putting off collecting the books thinking she will forget but every time I see her she reminds me and so last week I gave in and went and collected them. Hey ho. Nice to have them though and no way could I give them away still less sell them.
Then there is my other little weakness, collecting guitars and other musical instruments, keyboards, banjos, mandolins, violins, amps, guitar foot pedals, and so on and on. I thought, now I’m retired, I would be financially restrained and stop buying expensive guitars and this is true to a point but I just buy cheaper, musical items. The last item I bought was in a guitar shop in Limerick on our Irish holiday. I was quite proud of myself for not buying another guitar but the truth was, there wasn’t one I wanted, so instead I bought a bodhran (an Irish drum). It only cost 50 euros. And that has been fun, to play along with the Irish / Celtic music CDs I bought while in Dingle. Even Mrs SH, daughter and new son-in-law had a go on it when they came round for their first ‘married’ visit. So this is an affliction not quite cured. And given there is an auction in Leyburn of 272 guitars and other musical instruments which I thought I might just take a casual look at, just out of interest you understand, not to buy anything… The attic / music room may have to carry a little more weight before we have done. In fact I bought 5 more guitars I can now reveal.
Bear in mind, at this point in the blog, that this is only part one of the perfect storm of clutter and I’m not even counting the clothes that number one daughter left behind and will one day, she promises, allow us to take to a charity shop. So, part two. As you will know if you’ve read previous blogs, number one son has set his little heart on going to Australia – again and we have agreed to run his business as an experiment for six months. And that’s not even the issue here. Because he is moving abroad he has given up the lease on his apartment which means that all the stuff he has not sold, not been able to sell or is emotionally attached to in some way, has come back into our house. So this is an entirely new source of clutter.
Finally, or last but by no means least, as they put it, there is the entire contents of my late mother’s house. I can’t even begin to describe how much stuff this involves. Apart from about 500 or more objects, clothes, fabrics etc there’s the furniture. We had it valued and it’s not worth a lot, in fact most of the stuff the auction house wasn’t interested in at all. We keep changing our mind as to the best solution to this little challenge. This ranges from getting a house clearance firm to get rid of the whole lot, to just keeping some items for a sentimental exercise. Even hoping that our daughter might take a piece or two and she probably would but I can’t help thinking we’re emotionally blackmailing her into doing so. And so yesterday’s walk with the pups and Mrs SH coming up with a great scheme for the furniture. It will no doubt be the basis for another blog so all I’ll say at this point and in the context of the theme of this blog –de-cluttering – is that the scheme involves bringing a significant amount of furniture back to our house and storing in the garage until the great plan can be actioned. So strike at least three on the cluttering up front.
So retirement or not we’re going backwards clutter-wise. All of which serves to remind me that the only time we ever managed to live in a minimalistic style was when we went to live in New Zealand. When we first got there we could only find unfurnished houses to rent, so we had literally nothing. Friends lent us odd bits of furniture but we had no hi-fi, no TV, no video. For about the couple of weeks, we played board games, talked, jointly did crosswords, that kind of thing. We kept telling ourselves how great this was, how much we had come together as a family (for the whole story read 4 go to New Zealand available on this blog). Pleasure in the simple things. By the second or third week all this togetherness was wearing thin. To hell with the simple things let’s go out and buy a telly and video, which is what we did. Much relief. So I’m not sure all this de-cluttering is such a great thing. If there is any greater pleasure in life than finding a (free) use for something you have kept for years just in case it comes in, then I have yet to experience it. So retirement is bringing us more clutter, most of it imposed rather than selected, but you never know, it will come in one day. OK, they may not ‘bring joy’, but the anticipation of their future use (maybe re-configured), now that could work. Right now lightness in retirement seems a way off.
I should stop this, it’s already too long but I just have to say that, as I’m writing this, Mrs SH is de-cluttering one of our cupboards and her experience neatly illustrates the ying and the yang of de-cluttering. On the negative side she has just found clothes that belonged to one of our son’s girlfriends – three girlfriends ago. On the other hand she has just found a sleeping bag brand new and rubber mat thing which could be just perfect for our planned camping trip. Retirement is a time of great discoveries.