Things I have learned this year, Pt 82736: the hardest advice to take is your own. Yes, there is a grim irony in telling the storage unit owners that you’ve written a novel about a woman who fearlessly declutters her life while booking out five of their biggest containers for your houseful of junk.
I have moved not once, but twice since July. I don’t recommend it. Seriously, two house moves is like watching your life flash before your eyes very slowly, then all over again but with someone else’s life. It started this summer when I sold my house and moved in with my boyfriend, necessitating a skip arriving outside (“I won’t need a skip… I’ve got nothing to skip…”) which was soon full of discarded, non-recycle-able possessions, in addition to several trips to the Rotherwas Household Recycling Centre (ie, the council dump) and a lot of weeping over piles of Tatler magazines dating back to 2004 and moth-eaten trousers that I managed to fit into for a brief, unhappy and carb-less fortnight in 2006. What didn’t go in the skip – and it felt like everything I owned – went into one of the aforementioned five (5) containers.
I originally booked two containers. That’s what the storage unit owners allocate to the average four-bed family home. Boggle your mind at the thought that my house contained just me and two dogs. But then the dogs did have four beds, three crates, two bags of chewed toys, their own sofa, etc.
Like Gina in A Hundred Pieces of Me, I found that junking half my life-up-till-now was painful at times, but – eventually – cathartic. Yes, it did feel as if a lot of old emotions and memories were running through my hands, but it made me see that I wasn’t a different person because I no longer had that photo or that cassette tape: that incredible party or significant life-changing moment didn’t ‘not happen’ because I no longer had the physical evidence of it. The experience was still there in me; it was part of the person I’d evolved into. What I took with me, I loved, and what I threw out, I thanked and let go. And some stuff, I have to be honest, I just hurled out. Because there’s a limit to how many bottle bags even I can ‘reuse’.
Despite the memories churning away like a kind of emotional minestrone, I kept it all together until the very last morning in the house, when I had to get rid of this nice old chair that the new owners didn’t want – not an antique, but certainly good for a few more years’ sitting. I drove it down to the local charity shop (where I’d bought my beautiful Stag bedroom set – check out charity furniture shops, they’re great!) and they told me, ruefully, they couldn’t take it as it didn’t have a fire certificate, so I’d have to push it into landfill. Readers, I sat on that chair and I cried. I’d parted with a lot, including treasures I’d carried with me from my first houseshare back in 1996, but the thought of this decent old chair being smashed up in the jaws of the crusher for no good reason… (symbolism alert) Happily, my friend Joanna, who is one of those people so unfailingly nice you sometimes wonder if you’ve hallucinated them in desperation, rang me about something else and managed to decode my incoherent sobs: nggh nggh chair nggh landfill auagggh. At which point she pretended she was planning to do an upholstery course at the local college and ‘needed a chair to work on’ and could she have it?
I drove the chair round there the next day and it’s now running free in the fields of Powys. (Not literally. I think it’s in her spare bedroom, awaiting her imaginary upholstery course.) One day, I hope we’ll be reunited, me and my chair of symbolism. Maybe I will do the upholstery course…
Anyway…. a few months later, just as I’d got over waking in the middle of the night gripped with horror about the cost of a decade’s worth of magazines I’d just mulched, my boyfriend took the logical next step in the getting-our-own-place-together plan. He sold his house and we went through the whole process once again, except this time it was much MUCH easier to hold up random items and say, ‘What is this? Do you need this? What even is it?’ and I was the one jumping up and down on the skip to flatten the contents to make room for more junk, while he looked bereft and opened boxes that were still taped up from his second-to-last move.
I should add, amidst this talk of skips, that I did try very hard to adopt Gina’s ecologically sound attitude to rehoming our possessions. There are charity shops all over Hereford that I can’t go into because so much of my wardrobe is racked up that I’d feel as if I was having some weird out-of-body experience. I gave away bags of books, then panicked that I’d accidentally left postcards or M&S card statements inside them. I bequeathed the entire contents of my ‘present cupboard’ to a different charity shop. We foisted loads of duvets and pillows on the local dog rescue to make winter beds, replenished the local food bank with pasta and tins and those bottled cherries I seem to bulk buy from Lidl, and I’ve still got a bag of bras waiting to go to a bra-rehoming charity.
But here are the things I couldn’t bring myself to throw away:
Anything knitted by my mum (there was a lot, including not one but two knitted nativity scenes and a knitted Royal Wedding scene she made when William and Kate got married, as seen below. Mum also went through a ‘knitted hippo’ phase and I could start a knitted hippo sanctuary but… they’re staying.)
Magazines I’ve got features in (who doesn’t love opening an old magazine and marvelling that videos used to cost £500? And what’s a video, Grandma?)
Tights (why so many tights? Why is it so hard to throw them out? I suspect this is actually a family problem.)
Expensive make-up that’s been barely used (I know! I know you should chuck mascaras after 6 months and eyeshadows after a year but this Bobbi Brown Shimmerbrick cost an absolute fortune and I just can’t nggggh…)
Foreign editions of my own books in languages I can’t read (Yes, I have five copies of Lost Dogs in Slovakian. I am proud of those books. And they’re books! A fairy dies every time you put a book in the bin! In my defence, I’ve donated quite a few Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Hungarian editions to Hereford library since we have a thriving European community here. How they feel about the majority of books available for them to read in their native tongue being romances set in the West Midlands with dogs written by a single author, I don’t know. Slightly got at, probably.) Half my containers are full of books, no word of a lie. Also all my notebooks of plots, character development plans, pictures of dogs, and other things that don’t even make sense to me anymore.
Cookbooks (because the day will surely come when I need a recipe for Hawaiian Coconut Buns and won’t I be sorry I threw out the one book that included it?! Obvs that day will also involve the internet shutting down forever but still.)
There were more things. I mean, there must be. FIVE CONTAINERS. I just can’t bring myself to count them.
Anyway, after all this, we sort of fell down on the next stage of the process which was finding somewhere to move out junk into. We’re still looking. At this rate, we’ll soon be moving in with my books, old make-up and the knitted Windsors in the storage unit…