Sunday, October 2, 2011

To keep, or not to keep? Thoughts on de-cluttering.

Don't you just hate it when you see a bargain and circumstances prevent you from taking advantage of it? Various airlines are offering some good flight deals for long haul departures after Christmas. Normally, I would already have booked by now for our escape-the-winter trip, but we're in the midst of a protracted house buying/selling saga that is dragging on and on, preventing any form of forward planning. We don't do summer hols... we do winter escapes.  But it's not working out this year. In fact, I'm looking to experience my first full winter for eight years.  HELP!  Where did I store all those hand-knitted gloves and scarves my mother made?

Meanwhile I'm in de-cluttering mode. Husband is not taking this seriously yet. Everything I put into the charity shop pile he picks up and says, 'You're not giving this away are you? I like this.' Oh yeah? He likes it so much that he's not seen it for years because it's been up in the loft or buried in the bottom of a drawer.

Not normally given to nostalgia, it's amazing how much de-cluttering time is spent reminiscing - re-living the time that this dress or suit (yes, once upon a time I was a 'suit' person) was a favourite. Unwrapping lovingly wrapped odds and ends from years ago only to wonder what it was you ever saw in it. Finding bundles of old letters and cards that just have to be read from start to finish... largely because they're in grown up hand-writing, fashioned with real pen and ink, and so the personality of the writer... just a little bit of that long lost person... remains in the lift and swoop of the letter formations.

As a child of the fifties UK to Australasia government assisted migration programme I've always been a compulsive letter writer. Writing to the folks back home was part of colonial life. Letters just for the fun of keeping in touch, but, because of their hand crafted nature and extended length,  saying so much more than an email or text.  I also had pen-friends in several exotic countries and loved the look and feel of an envelope arriving in my letterbox that had been passed from hand to hand; transported, I imagined, by donkey, ship, aeroplane and bicycle, and bearing that tiny piece of art work in the top right hand corner that had actually been licked by my friend. Mmmm. I could almost smell the dust of India or the spices of Hong Kong when I held the envelopes up to my nose.

When I came to live in England in the swinging sixties I corresponded regularly with my mother back in New Zealand and collected, over many many years, a huge number of stamps off her letters. I still keep them in clear glass ornamental jars.

New Zealand has always produced exciting pictorial stamps. But what's special about the stamps I collect is that they're taken from the corners of the blue aerogrammes that kept families in touch with each other before the days of emails and skype. And so, on the back of each tiny square or rectangle, there's a snippet of my mother's handwriting.

Hope this finds you     sunny day today...           Dad went to...    sorry to hear...                                         
          You'll never believe...

And this brings me to what turned out to be a disastrous spate of de-cluttering over 20 years ago. My sister-in-law had been visiting and pointed out to me that I really ought to de-clutter the end of my kitchen work surface where I keep mail and such like. Pens, telephone, note pads, rubber bands, appointment cards and lots and lots of the blue aerogrammes that arrived, sometimes two or three times a week from my mother.  So, with another spate of visitors due, I threw myself into de-cluttering mode,  tidied up and threw out lots of letters, perhaps the previous few weeksworth, that had been cluttering up my kitchen.  I didn't know that within a few months my mother would no longer be with us. After her death, when I searched the house, I couldn't find any of her letters... such was the extent of my tidying up. So now I only have snippets of her handwriting on the backs of the used stamps.

Sometimes I spread them out on the carpet and read them one by one. This brings back vivid images of my mother. I hear her voice and and sense her gestures -  the twinkle in her eye or the
worried frown. Now and then an expression of despair, but mostly an assurance that everything was fine, when often I knew it wasn't.

'When in doubt, chuck it out,' we're urged. But hang on a minute... what about giving a thought to that old Yorkshire saying, 'When in doubt, do now't'.  With that in mind I think I'll give the de-cluttering a rest for a while. 

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