(while packing for a house move.)
I’m boxing up books and scratching my chin.
Here are days, weeks and years of travel. From Orkney to Australia, and from Malawi to Berlin. I know some of these places, and once I must have imagined I would visit them all.
I find an envelope in an old book (so old the spine is wrinkly and its lettering patchy). It’s addressed to me when I was a girl, in the idiosyncratic script of my late grandmother. I look inside, but there is no trace of her tissue-thin blue pages. I slip the envelope back where I found it, and make up a new box marked ‘Old books and Granny‘.
I see randomness in belongings that have been acceptable for months – like a desiccated tomato vine from a strange last summer. Strung over a cork board, its brittle brownness reaches refuse collection dates. Do I wrap it in bubble wrap and hope its barren beauty survives? Will I feel daft when I rediscover it in a couple of months’ time?
As a keeper of clippings – on everything from how the gut influences your mind to how to deal with clutter – I ignore a dust-coated pile as high as my desk until one day it’s time. I sift and am ruthless – and then from the middle of the stack emerges a New Year’s Eve 2019 headline:
“WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO IN 2020.”
Other finds include …
An image of our soon-to-be old hometown, on a 1945 postcard, now flat at the bottom of a box of odd socks (where else?). The war is at an end, and the writer has chosen to send the recipient a picture of the war memorial, yet he expresses only what is important to him that day: when he (Jon) and his wife (Lydia) will be home (Tuesday).
There are postcards I’ve bought, stamped and never sent – photos of sheep and pubs, cows and doors – and others mailed to us a long time ago and from very far away – bringing messages with mountains and seascapes, cars and Concorde, and a couple of sun-happy pineapples.
And the kitchen is a treasure trove of out of date fodder. Herbs and spices are bound to be fine, but what about this pasta from the Butcher of Bologna?
Pretty curls saved for a special day – and although we have had a few, no occasion has persuaded me to free the pasta from its packet. Finally, I cook it on an regular Friday and with the wrong sauce (defrosted pesto instead of sausages because I’m exhausting the contents of the freezer).
In a trail of redundant handbags is a recurring theme of pebbles and stones. Coming in all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of prettiness, and secreted into zip compartments whilst on windy beaches, my youngest child had begged me to: keep them safe.
Along with them I discover an old £20 note, folded and folded so that it could slot in a pocket, plus my eldest son’s attempt at a French test taken several years ago. Perhaps I should have discarded it immediately, when the teacher told me my son could do better, but it’s far too late now.
A good cull takes time, and experts say that “the aim at the end of a declutter is to know where everything is “. Time is running short, but at least I know that everything will be in boxes, whether we need it all or not (including ‘Stuffocation‘, looking as brand new as ever).
The fun, when it comes, will be in the unpacking.