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It is often said that people who hoard items, or find it difficult to let go of things they don’t need, have suffered the trauma of ‘need’ in their pasts – war, hunger, poverty – and that fear of ‘not enough’ has wired them differently.
It is easy to understand why someone who never had enough to eat as a child, might become an overeater as an adult. Easy to see why someone who cowered in rubble from a rain of bombs might need to lock him/herself away in a fortress-like house, surrounded with emergency provisions, even when circumstances have improved.
I have known neither war nor poverty. I am still investigating my inability to let things go – my need to keep everything I have ever owned.
It is something to do with the way I see the world. To me, objects are not merely things. If they are mine, then they are MY things, and that makes them special.
A very early memory, from when we still lived in Denmark, might provide a clue to the way I’m wired…
I had accompanied my mother to a hairdressing salon; I sat on a little black stool, watching and waiting as she had her hair cut. This was very exciting and I remember loving the attention from the staff in the shop, and delighting in their exclamations of how cute I was. (I really was cute, when I was 2 years old.)
Buoyed by the compliments, I toddled out of the shop with my newly coiffed mother and we returned home. It wasn’t till much later that I realised I’d lost my woolly hat – an amazingly 70s concoction of purple and orange fluffiness – and that it was probably still hanging from the hat stand at the hairdressers.
I immediately burst into tears. My mother said, “Well, that’s what happens if you don’t look after your possessions.”
I was inconsolable for a long time – long enough that my parents lost all patience with me. But what I couldn’t explain to them was that I was not crying because I didn’t have the hat anymore.
I was crying because the hat didn’t have ME.
I kept thinking of my lovely, fluffy hat – hand knitted by one of my mother’s friends – sitting in the shop, bereft and lonely, thinking that I had abandoned it. That’s what I couldn’t bear – that my hat would never know that it was an accident; would never know how sorry I was. I grieved for quite a long time. In fact, I’m probably still grieving – after all, who on earth remembers losing a hat at 2? That’s not normal, is it?
And this is the sad, painful process I go through every time something breaks, is lost, thrown away or given away. Even now – as a sensible (ish) adult.
Bizarrely, I married someone who is the polar opposite. If something is no longer useful, looks past its best or bores him, Hubby immediately chucks it away without thinking twice. You can imagine that he now has to have his clear-outs when I’m not looking, even if it’s his own stuff.
I once rescued a whole batch of ties and shirts he’d consigned to charity. When he pointed out that I don’t WEAR ties or shirts (especially shirts big enough for two of me), I made a wall hanging of little stuffed folk birds and hearts made out of his ties and shirts, just to show him how useful they were. #logic
One day, my mother-in-law gave me a book called ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo.
I stuck it on the shelf without even opening it, and there it stayed till last summer.
I was a couple of weeks away from the end of the summer holidays and was suffering the usual back-to-school melancholy. I realised that my side of the bedroom, my ‘studio’ and desk were so crammed with crap that I had basically obstructed my ability to live. How was I supposed to do any school work, or relax in my bedroom when there wasn’t room to move? When items I should have dealt with months ago stared me accusingly in the face everywhere I went?
I pulled Marie Kondo’s book off the shelf and began to read. Before I’d even reached the third chapter, I was fired with enthusiasm and I rushed upstairs with several bin bags, determined to tackle my wardrobe – a wardrobe which was so full that I couldn’t put anything inside it or get anything out.
Dealing with the clothes was actually quite easy. Kondo says if you hold it in your hands and the item of clothing doesn’t give you joy, then you get rid of it. This sounds pretty batty, but I could see what she meant. I realised I had LOADS of clothes that I never wear, and I also realised, on reflection, that there was a good reason I never wore any of them.
Some were too big, but I’d kept them in case I put on weight. Talk about pessimism.
Some were too small, but I kept telling myself I would lose weight and fit into them one day. Mixed messages there. And who wants to keep a pair of trousers that screams, “You’re a FAILURE!” at you every time you open the drawer?
Some didn’t reflect the person I was now. I’d bought them when I was less confident, more mumsy, frumpy even.
Some were hand-me-downs that I kept out of gratitude. But they didn’t suit me, and I hadn’t chosen them in the first place.
Some were perfectly serviceable, in good condition and fit me reasonably well. But did I want to wear something which could only boast ‘reasonable serviceability’ as its overriding quality? Would that help me to go out into the world that day and be the best version of me? Nope. Out they went.
Within an hour, I had seven huge bags of clothes to be taken to charity shops. I could almost hear the grinding and grating of rock, as one of the obstructions in my life began to roll away.
The reason Marie Kondo had managed to get my attention and break through my entrenched scepticism regarding self-help tidying books was a strange one.
She anthropomorphises objects too. (Maybe it’s a Japanese thing…) She believes that everything she owns is sentient, to a certain degree. Not because she’s crazy or because inanimate objects have souls… but because they are HER possessions, and therefore her interactions with them generate energy.
This makes sense if you think about it. You will have an opinion, subconscious or otherwise, on EVERYTHING you own – ranging from love, hate, indifference, irritation and anything in between. If you have too many objects surrounding you – especially ones you dislike, or feel guilty or sad about – your possessions start defining YOU, instead of the other way around.
I realised that stuffing a drawer with unwanted items and then avoiding the drawer resentfully (because the darn thing doesn’t open/close properly) is actually pretty unfair on the drawer and all the squashed items inside that never see the light of day any more. I started going through each drawer, and reassigning items that could have a new lease of life with someone else, and throwing away items that needed to be released from their unhappy, overstretched existences.
It’s basically the plot of Toy Story.
So after that preachy little blog post, you’d expect my house to be an airy, minimalist expanse of uncluttered space, tastefully accented with designer items that bring me much joy. Right?
Well, let’s just say it’s a work in progress…