It is a long story, but suffice it to say that for the past year I have been trying to move to a smaller place. My current home has more bedrooms than I need. A smaller place makes sense.
It is not what you’d call a big house, not if you consider that it housed seven at one time; it’s just your average English semi-detached. Even so, the quantity of ‘stuff’ that has managed to build up in it over the years doesn’t bear thinking about.
When we first moved south, we didn’t bring a great deal other than the furniture. And the books. There wasn’t much…apart from the books… as it was only a handful of years since we’d moved back from France. At that point, all our worldly possessions including the books had fit into one large packing case.
But the boys were growing and things started to build up. School reports, photographs, memories and mementos… extra kitchen appliances and gadgetry, linen and plates… all the things that go to make up a family home. Add in a trio of step-children and their stuff and the house was stuffed. To the brim. Then one of them moved a girlfriend in too and they had a baby…
One by one they moved out, leaving the house to me and Ani. As soon as the last had gone, I rolled up my sleeves, got out the paint and the bleach and went through the house like the proverbial dose of salts, cleaning, clearing and ruthlessly throwing away or recycling everything I could. It was as if all the sediment of family life had settled at the bottom of the cupboards, but by the time I had done, I could actually open cupboards without things falling out. It was wonderful! The feeling of lightness after years of being weighed down and crowded by things was incredible.
But the feeling of spaciousness was only relative… you always expand to fit the space available. And, of course a lot of things were simply stored as the boys didn’t have space for them but well, you just don’t throw them away. The art stuff seemed to spread… the craft and ‘costume department’ expanded and the books were breeding. That’s the only explanation. The thing is that in a family sized house now holding just one person, it doesn’t feel overcrowded. Not until you start looking around with a view to fitting the contents of said house into a small flat with no storage space… and no spare rooms. You mentally start going through the house, sorting it out before you lift a finger, wondering how you are actually going to dispose of things and what you can put where.
Then it gets a bit strange. You start to think in degrees
It is nice to have an attractive, comfortable home… but that doesn’t take much. I’ve made homes in badly furnished bedsits in the past. Home isn’t about things, but about the feel of a place. I want to keep the things that mean something to me. I’d like to keep my painting gear, sewing stuff and books*. I’ll have to keep cartloads of paperwork and official stuff I could happily live without. But in all honesty, I need very little… just the basics to live in the place, eat and dress..and the less I take, the better.
The move is not yet certain but probable, so it will have to be done anyway. I know I won’t regret it and will feel better for lightening the load of ‘things’ even further. The doing of it, I’m not looking forward to… the timing couldn’t be worse and the logistics of sifting, shifting and disposing of stuff is enough to send me nuts. And I know where the sticking point will be… and being the sole woman amongst my menfolk, I’ll get little sympathy for my agonising.
The boys’ old scrapbooks, the letters and school reports… all the silly bits mums do keep. I will probably give it all to the boys to do with as they will. None of it is important in the grand scheme of things… things are just things after all… but they represent bits of family memory. They are not the memories themselves, but tangible reminders of moments otherwise forgotten, ephemeral symbols of times, people, places and faces that might otherwise slip into some dusty cupboard of the mind.
I have been wondering about that and I came up with one reason why it is that women set more importance on holding on to such things as a rule. It’s the sentimental stuff… and the word ‘sentiment’ implies emotion; women tend to be the more emotional of the sexes and emotion is intimately linked with memory. It is an idea that goes right back to the beginning of Family. Women tend to live longer than men… we probably always did, especially in harsher times when the hunt for food cost lives. Were we the hearth-holders and the keepers of memories, the guardians of our family’s heritage and history that grandmother would pass down to the younger ones… even as grannys do today?
Redefining the space in which we live can have another effect too. ‘Things’ that we hold on to affirm the role of the people in your life and your place in theirs. As such, it is good to let go of them and realise that our roles change and are redefined as we move through life. Although you may be a son, a daughter or a parent forever, as time moves the pieces on the board, your position and relationships evolve and hopefully grow into something different, something wider, more expansive. Your habitual role within the family is not the only definition of who you are. It is worth considering who else you are …or who you might become.
And therein lies adventure 🙂
*Okay, the books stay… or as many of them as I will re-read or use anyway.