Sunday, May 18, 2014

Aspirational clutter

Last weekend I spent some time with my mother, a dedicated mother-daughter I'm-not-hear-to-do-the-clearning day. (Or at least that was the idea).

My mother has had a number of health issues in the last two years and I've not been able to support her in a practical sense anywhere near as much as I would like to. The price of living in another country (and a cost that seems increasingly high for the benefit.) On one notable occasion, I wasn't able to take the time off work to be there during her operation but managed to come for a weekend shortly afterwards. I woke up early because of the time difference and, with the house to myself, just started a bit of tidying. This rapidly became an epic cleaning session, partly because I just knew my mother was sitting looking at the mess and grime accumulate, feeling miserable and guilty but unable to do anything about it, and partly because once I started it was so satisfying to see the space emerge from the stuff. When I finally finished and sat down for a cup of tea with my mother she burst into tears, she was so touched and it was so lovely to be able to do something for her.

I was determined this weekend we would not get side-tracked by cleaning, but in the end we spent most of the day decluttering her bookshelves. We had a total blast and talked and talked and talked, and I was struck by how much easier it is to help someone else sort through their clutter than it is to deal with your own. All the things I challenged her on - have you ever read this book? Wouldn't you just look it up online? Does it add value to your life? - are echoing back at me in my own home.

One thing in particular struck me. The stuff we hang on to because, very deep down, we want to be the kind of person who has x or does y or knows z. I realised this a little bit when I first went through my books - I had a copy of Samuel Beckett's short stories. I read them alone in a pub when my friends were late and it was a thoroughly depressing read, made me feel utterly friendless and despondent. I have no wish to read it again, but I quite like the idea of being the kind of erudite person with Samuel Beckett on her shelf. I let go of the book.

My mother had several books on wine - in particular, guides on which wine to buy. She was keeping them because of a vague fantasy of exploring the world of wine with someone discerning. The books dated from 1996 and had never been opened, and for me it was so easy to suggest that if she does think about exploring the word of wine, perhaps she might want to either buy something up to date, use the resources of the internet, or even better, go to some wine tastings.

I do need to find a way to capture that clarity for my own things. But one thing I have let go of is the lace pillow. I learned how to make bobbin lace at school when I was about 10, and I loved it. I have since then accumulated bobbins, books, patterns and a lace pillow but have never made anything out of bobbin lace. I have finally acknowledged that, at least at present, I have limited time for craft activities and I prefer to invest my time and energy into things like knitting and sewing which give me practical, useful and wearable outputs - I don't really know what I would make bobbin lace for.

It was a bit of a wrench but I have let go of the image of a life when I can spend hours clacketty-clacketting the bobbins to make beautiful, delicate lace. 

I have also tested my fabric stash and given away all the synthetic fabrics which realistically I will not use. For some reason, I have never thought of craft materials as clutter because they are 'useful' and crafts are an integral part (for me) of a more simple, homemade life. Now I see that one of the areas I have accumulated the most clutter is in the various crafts I would like to do but have never really had time for. I have NEARLY got my entire craft selection to fit tidily into my craft cupboard, with four substantial exceptions - my current work basket, my yarn stash, my ragbag and the pile of odds and ends intended to become a patchwork quilt. (So really, it's not nearly at all...)

The thing most holding me back is a wish to be a thrifty crafty creative person who finds a use for old discarded things, rather than just throwing them away, but to be honest I have more things and ideas than I have time to implement them. I also have a stash of dubious quality, bought before I had learned what I liked or planned what I wanted to make - and this stash is preventing me from getting started on projects I know I will enjoy and benefit from. Time to let the stash go?


  1. How nice of you to help your Mum out like that and even take something away to implement yourself! My Grandma has soooo many things - especially clothes she has never worn but she refueses to declutter. One day the day will come where she will have to and it's going to be very hard on her.

  2. So very true. I want to be the kind of person who reads and rereads classics - and every so often I try (see my recent reading of Wives and Daughters, which was actually a success). Fortunately, I can mostly keep classics on my e-reader or even my ipod as audiobooks so they take up very little physical space. My problem is more that I want to be the kind of person who owns and wears nice, flattering clothes - but (as I confirmed this weekend) the experience of shopping makes me tearful and moody which makes it very difficult to find and buy these mythical clothes and I end up only shopping when I absolutely need to replace one specific thing and just buy whatever fits because I so badly want to get out of there.

  3. We have been doing a lot of thinking about letting go of the STUFF that is in our house in England that we have done without for the last 18 months. Lots of it I will be glad to reclaim, and some we need there but not here, but some... At the mo it is all pie in the sky though since we are here and not there!

  4. It is a bit of wrench sometimes to let go of what was once an important dream but in reality you know you will never get back to it. It must have been hard to let go of doing the bobbin lace ...but I totally understand . For me , I retired from teaching and for some reason I still have boxes of books on teaching kids how to would be far better for those books to be at the op shop so someone else could use them!
    Lovely post and it sounds like you had a great day with your mum.



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