For many years, our family moved house on an annual basis. Although moving is an expensive, inconvenient and often distressing experience, it does have one silver lining: it forces a person to get rid of her rubbish.
Having to pack up one’s belongings sharpens the de-cluttering claws. If you have to carry it, or pay for its transportation, treasure really does turn to trash. A certain ruthlessness comes to the fore. I know that by the third day of packing for an international move, I am wresting beloved toys out of my children’s arms (do you really need 50 stuffed animals?) and begging friends and strangers both to help themselves from my pantry.
I love fresh starts, and actually take pleasure in setting up my kitchen or neatly organizing clothing drawers when I first move into a house. However, once a household has been established, I never am in the mood for seasonal cleaning – spring, or otherwise. Thus, even though the daily house maintenance falls to me, it is usually my husband that forces anything that might be described as “a project.”
Last night he said something along the lines of “we are drowning in clutter,” and although I chose to ignore that statement at the time, I started off the day by tackling some of the more annoying and obvious piles. This will be our fourth Christmas in The Barn – a personal best for our itinerant family -- and we are going to have a big crowd. I’m going to need all of the seats at the table, which means reclaiming at least half the space from the pile of newspapers, books, magazines and mail that has taken up semi-permanent residence there.
Although I can get rid of any piece of clothing that I haven’t worn in a year or two, when it comes to the written word, I suffer from a mental delusion. Despite all experience to the contrary, I still believe that someday I’m going to have the time to read this. I’m particularly prone to saving The Guardian Review, the RHS Garden magazine, and anything that has recipes. We have a kitchen chair stacked high with my favorites, in addition to the paper purgatory on the table. (I also have a stack of Reviews in my study, which I am guiltily gazing upon even as I write this.)
This morning I started out with firm resolve, and cleared the kitchen chair in one clean stroke. Then, I made a cup of tea and proceeded to flick through the large stack before it went to the recycling bin – just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything really important or interesting, you know. After an hour, and maybe three sections of Reviews that I never read during the summer, I realized that a more mindlessly efficient process was called for. Without even let myself look at the alluring titles, I started stuffing them into bags.
At that juncture, a friend called; and with the help of this distraction, I was able to completely empty a cabinet of dozens and dozens of cooking magazines – some of which I had been hoarding since the beginning of this decade. I immediately hauled them out to the car so I wouldn’t suffer from clearing remorse – and I’m proud to say that I only retrieved three of them from their shredding fate.
Flush with this success, (although not really flushed, because our house is freezing), I tackled the worst of the bookshelves. Even after careful review, I had to conclude that 99% of my books either (1) haven’t been read or (2) might want to be read again someday. After a great deal of internal debate, and some misgivings (it has to be said), I think that I managed to bag up about 10 books to go the charity shop.
Sadly, I still haven’t made much progress with the pile on the kitchen table. I had a quick look through it, and did throw away various bits of mail, but there are still so many newspapers and magazines of recent vintage there. I can’t quite let go of my belief that I am still going to read them. Someday.