Sentimental sediment

Cartoon moving out house - Cartoon moving out

Image: MyLot

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.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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69 Responses to Sentimental sediment

  1. Denis1950 says:

    You really have to want to move Sue and more important is that question. How would Ani react to moving?, she seems to have the world at the garden gate!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I really can’t afford to stay where I am, Denis… but I don’t think Ani will mind as the new garden opens out onto a field…and we’ll be in the same tiny village 🙂


  2. my wife and I have been together 50 years – I subtract things from the household and she adds things – it’s never changed – not that we keep score, but she’s way ahead

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I moved 1000km just last fall. I’m still sorting …


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I’m sorting before I move… less than a mile away for now ( if I get the go-ahead) but as I will need furniture to fit the space available, I can see me with boxes for a while .


  4. Ritu says:

    My parents moved after Pops retired, into a five bedroom house. For many years we had lived in alarmed detached house with the bottom converted into a dental surgery for Pops work, and us above in a 4 bed flat.
    Seemed strange to move to a bigger place once your kids had flown the coop, but they did.
    One bedroom for them, one for me, whenever I was yo come home, one for my brother, a prayer room form
    Pops, and a small share room.
    It’s been over 10 years since they moved and mum IS STILL unpacking… And at the same time thinking that now they are getting older (Pops hits 70 soon) they should downsize!
    I know my mum’s heart breaks as she goes through all the stuff they have collected, but one day it’ll have to be done.
    And I think I have the same issue with collecting ‘memories’…. Maybe I need to streamline right now!!!
    Good luck with your sorting, and your possible move Sue!


    • Sue Vincent says:

      It is only necessity making me downsize. I quite like having a guest room and a studio, but as they seldom get used (I tend to traipse the stuff to paint or sew downstairs anyway), I can’t say I actually need them. And I can share the sofa with Ani when I have guests 🙂 But it will be good for me to clear the accretion of stuff I don’t use and start fresh.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    As we are in the same position at the moment I understand where Sue Vincent is coming from. We are going to be downsizing but which of my hoarded treasures from the last 36 years are going to be consigned to the shelves of charity shops or passed along to friends who already have too much to dust!


  6. Oh I can so relate! Moving from a three bed 2 reception and conservatory cottage with the intention of buying a two bed one reception home without.
    We were ruthless, only keeping sufficient to furnish our new home wherever it was, and everything, including my car, fitted into a 20 foot shipping container.
    We got priced out of the property market, and ended up on our 41 foot narrow boat. Excluding my car, 95% of the shipping container contents had to go. We were left with two cars of belongings, and on arrival here, 90% of that had to go too.
    You are right though, we spread into our available space, and at the end of the day, accumulate STUFF. We are down to one car now, and if it’s not in the boot, the boat or we’re not wearing it, we don’t have it.
    Bit drastic I know, but we’re happy. We have the important things from building our life together and we have each other (and Maggie of course).


  7. Mary Smith says:

    When I was clearing out dad’s house after he died I swore I was going to de-clutter at home. That was over a year ago and I still haven’t begun the task and now as well as our stuff, our son’s, because he is still a student and has nowhere to store a trunkful of school reports, photos, etc., I have boxes of dad’s books, papers and photos. I think the de-cluttering would only happen if we moved and as I am finally going to have a new kitchen after twenty years I am not moving for a very long time. Already panicking about what to do with my teapots and Toby jugs and odd plates currently on the kitchen dresser…


  8. jenanita01 says:

    I have a major problem with de cluttering, as I never know when whatever it is will come in handy. It is time to try again, but I’m not holding my breath!
    Best wishes for your move, Sue, and hope it all goes smoothly…


  9. adeleulnais says:

    Ah I sympathise, I have had to do this many times and it is always a mountain to climb. Sadly when my Mam passed, as she lived in a council house, we only had a week to clear her house. My daughter and I had been staying with her so you can imagine the heartache and pain having so little time to do this in. But we did and now Becca and I are looking to downsize and will have to do it all again. Yes, I still have a folder with Tara`s first spaghetti picture in, the sorry card she wrote to my Mum for busting the sofa, using it as a trampoline and her beautiful pictures that she drew of Mum, Nana and Tara. There are books in the attic, books in the hall, books in the oh dear and I know I will have to be ruthless but there comes a point……


  10. My wife and I talk about downsizing. We would have to have a yard sale/giveaway of epic proportions to jam ourselves into a smaller place.


  11. We have reversed roles, husband saves everything. I can’t handle the clutter. My only collections are books and photographs, which will be the last to go when we scale down. The experience of cleaning out his parent’s 65 years of “stuff” will be a lesson to us both. Fingers crossed. I don’t want our children to have to sort through all this one day. 💕


  12. fransiweinstein says:

    I’ve recently also gone through a “clean up”, also with a view to moving. You’ve hit the nail on the head, of course. It’s all “sentimental” things that are so hard to give up. And they can be anything, from a binder of your grandmother’s recipes to carpets and furniture and pots and pans. It is difficult and over the years I’ve done away with some bits and pieces. But this time I was absolutely brutal and I’ve got to say it feels really good. I “feel” uncluttered and free. But, like you, I can’t get rid of the books. And I won’t. It’s funny because for the last couple of years I’ve been toying with the idea of going to live in France. Much as I love some of my “things” I am practical enough to know that shipping them from Canada to France would be ridiculously expensive. But let me assure you, the contents of the four floor-to-ceiling bookcases I have would be coming with me. Alas, I’ve decided to stay put for a while, so it’s a non-issue. Good luck with your purging and with your move!


  13. Having just moved back to Wales, we were able to have a mega clear-out. We donated lots of items to charity so those items could be sold and the money put to good use. Both of us not only felt good that we’d cleared lots of clutter and unwanted goods but that we were also helping the less fortunate in our society.
    I admit that I have held on to a few sentimental items (such as scrapbooks from the 1980s which I hardly look at these days), but there are some things we can just never part from.
    If and when Ani and you do move then I hope the move goes smoothly, Sue.


  14. socialbridge says:

    I don’t envy you, Sue. Moving is such hassle but usually worth it in the end.


  15. I don’t begrudge you this task, Sue. Good luck and take the books since they give you such pleasure. Wish you all the best in your endeavors. ❤
    I last moved seven years ago with about 2500 books, they've multiplied since. Impossible to leave behind.


  16. I’m still waiting for my 33-year-old daughter to take her stuff, Sue. And I’m getting to the age where I want her to take my stuff too. She makes the sign of the cross. But I’m always trying to lighten the load. I have 1 closet in the entire house, yes just 1, so everything I keep is sentimental – there’s no room for anything else. I can’t trash it, but I can give it away….if only she’d take it. Ha ha. Lovely post.


  17. Sounds like a lot of work ahead of you Sue, and emotional work at that! 😊💕Best of luck!


  18. Eliza Waters says:

    It’s the emotional ties that are the hardest part of sorting. A great book that deals with that is Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up’ (there are also video clips online). It got me going through all my dozens of books (many of which I have donated to the library and sold some to used book stores for a handy sum). Lightening our load is emotionally freeing and as you said, there is actually very little that we need. The process can open us for greater things to come.


  19. Widdershins says:

    Good heavens! we have book breeding going on here too! 😀


  20. I enjoyed this piece, Sue.

    I can empathise with you’re ‘plight’ as I have been through it myself but you do eventually get used to less and even start to wonder what you ‘needed’ all the ‘things’ for in the first place.

    I have found that a simpler, less cluttered life is actually more enjoyable. Less clutter, less stress, less distractions thereby allowing you to spend more time doing the things you really enjoy doing…

    …until the grandkids come to visit…

    D. 🙃


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I’ve felt a real sense of relief every time I’ve had to clear the decks for moving… and I’ve done it a lot. I haven’t downsized this far in a long time though and I admit, the next few weeks are not ones I’m looking forward to… though doubtless I’ll enjoy the process when I manage to get started 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Stuff multiplies in the dark while we aren’t looking. I’m convinced I could not possibly have accumulated this much stuff.


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