“Spring cleaning”. What a fine old expression, bringing to mind celebrating the arrival of warm weather with a jolly dash through the house with a duster leaving everything spic and span. At least, that’s my childhood memory of it; watching my mother, that is – I never had to do it myself. And in my own adulthood I don’t think I’ve ever done a conventional spring clean. Sure, there are occasional bouts of tidying and dusting but not on a house-wide scale. I think it’s because my childhood is now over half a century in the past, at a time when we had far less ‘stuff’ than we do now. I look around my own house and at those of my friends and what I mostly see is accumulation out of control. Shelves groan under the weight of objects of all kinds – books, ornaments, framed photos and other keepsakes, while opening a cupboard door is often a scary experience, revealing tightly-packed rows of items most of which haven’t been touched in decades.
Moving house is supposedly the time to deal with this, but we rarely do; just bundle it all into boxes, transport it then cram it into a different set of cupboards or shelves. So most of us are quite advanced in years when the real need arrives to sort out our possessions. For many this time never does arrive, and it’s our descendants who are faced with the daunting task of wading through decades of accumulated clutter.
Actually, it’s much easier for them as they don’t have the same attachment to our stuff as we do. This realization of just how strong this attachment can be has recently come home to me following a decision to divide my life between two countries, maintaining a base in each. You’d think that would be fairly easy; twice as much space so no need to throw away too much. But some kind of decision has to be made about which items go to which new home, so why not take the bull by the horns, set aside a day or three and start sorting. I’ll feel so much better for it; the warm glow of virtuousness following a job well done.
But that’s after and this is now. No warm glow, just a general feeling of rising panic, coupled with amazement about what I’m uncovering. For example, I live in a warm climate, so why the need for 14 pullovers? The recent winter was harsh, breaking all recent records and definitely needing some warm clothing, but how many of these pullovers – some brand new and not yet worn – actually came out of their cupboard between December and April?
Two. Both ancient and saggy, one with holes from flying sparks thrown by a bonfire. This is beyond ridiculous, though maybe it’s an aberration. Let’s look around some more. OK, I live on a mountain hillside with a fair bit of land, but FIVE chainsaws? Two circular saws, two electric planes, a dozen or so nearly identical screwdrivers, four wheelbarrows (three of which have punctures and are waiting for solid wheels to be fitted) and an assortment of spades, shovels, forks, rakes and other garden tools, several with broken handles awaiting replacements. For the car I have two trolley jacks, three battery chargers and three electric tyre pumps, only one of which in each case is ever used. I just haven’t got around to discarding the others.
In the house we have at least three of everything; particularly glassware, though most sets are incomplete. During a previous move fate maliciously broke one out of every set, so we bought replacement sets. But did we throw away the remaining parts of the old sets? Of course not. We have three sets of good cooking pans but continue to use every day a trio of pans that cost £10 in ASDA over half a decade ago. Why, I have no idea.
You get the picture. I’m a hopeless case, with no ability to throw anything away. But that’s not completely true. I do in fact throw away a LOT of stuff; just not enough to cope with the incoming tide. It seems to take far longer to dispose of stuff than it does to buy new. Part of the problem is the minute analysis we perform over every candidate for disposal. Is it truly worn out? Can I retrieve something of value from it before discarding the rest? Such as the power cord, which can be snipped off an electrical item then added to the large box of such cables in the scary cupboard under the stairs. No matter that I cannot recall a single occasion when I’ve actually reused a power cord; no, it’s a one-way trip. They go in, never to return.
The realization of how far out of control I’ve become – and the prompt to write this article – came when I found myself pondering over what to do with three lumps of volcanic rock collected from Vesuvius last year and now gathering dust – a lot of it – on a shelf. The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with my memory. I remember the trip very clearly so why the need to keep three rather unimposing rocks? So I threw them into the garden.
Actually, I didn’t. They’re still on an outside windowsill pending a choice of final resting place. Gotta let them get used to the trauma of moving, after all.
I truly hope, dear reader, that you cannot see yourself in any of this. But I rather fear that most of us are similarly afflicted; terminal cases, unable to cope with the challenge of getting and keeping our lives under control. I wish I could offer a solution; a simple recipe to follow when deciding what you need and what you don’t. And how to dispose of the latter without agonizing over the possibility – nay certainty – that the day after your no-longer-treasured articles reach the landfill you’ll suddenly discover you needed them after all.
And with that it’s time to get back to the task in hand. I want that virtuous glow.