At the End of the Day

When you move house at my age, the business of what to take and what to chuck requires a serious degree of discipline.

As one is sizing down not up, most of the ‘oh well, why not keep it’ stuff is inevitably heading for the skip. Even though you only ever used it once, the portable car TV you bought one afternoon in a motorway service station has to go. And while that breakfast bar in mahogany was fashionable in 1867 and then again in 1979, it isn’t in 2013 – probably because nobody eats kedgeree any more.

Another consideration is the cost of storage – as I’m not moving directly to another address. For a relatively small amount of stuff, it’s around £150 a month….not something to do for the long-term. So quite a bit of clutter has to be weeded out and offered to the auctioneer. He came round today, direct from Antiques Roadshow central casting. I kept hoping we’d stumble across a Faberge Egg, but the only thing he got remotely excited about was an old partner’s desk I’ve had for years. I got less than excited, as the price range he suggested was half what I paid for it.

However, the main discipline one needs is to look at something, decide, and then mark it ‘store’, ‘auction’, or ‘skip’. The thing to avoid is what I did today: look at everything and be transported back anything from fifteen to forty years in time. Doing this, I estimate, means it would take the average person twenty years to go through everything.

Ah yes, that bow-fronted corner cupboard. Dunkeld. 1977? I had that Audi Avant in bronze (dreadful colour, but very fast) and we put the seats down to get the cupboard home. The car broke down on the way back, and we spent a night in Sheffield, wandered round some antique shops the next day. Bloody Avant. It broke down in France on Christmas Eve the following year. That janitor drove us to a train so we could finish the journey. I remember he was pissed. I fell in a ditch going for help. Wonderful Christmas, that. Roger was in great form. Poor old Roger.

By the time a metal bear statuette from Berlin (1965), a deckchair from a photo shoot (1993), a Regency Chaise bought at Austins of Peckham (1982) and a chamber pot in pink and black (impulse purchase, 1990) had been studied and considered, I’d been at it half an hour. The skip, meanwhile, was empty – save for the four inches of snow that began falling like giant feathers one minute after it was delivered.

Books are the worst. Blimey, Supernature by Lyall Watson: I can’t throw that away. And as for The Pendulum Years by Bernard Levin – well, a classic. It contains a wonderful passage in which Levin is attending the Lady Chatterly obscenity trial in 1962. The then Guardian journalist relates how he heard the words “womb and bowels” intoned by the prosecuting counsel so many times during one cross-examination, he began to think of it as the name of a solicitors in Bournemouth.

Mind you, The Best of the Galloping Gourmet….not sure that’s stood the test of time. Our Story by the Four Pennies? Maybe that can go. But I couldn’t bear to be parted from those four volumes of Churchill’s History of the Second World War. They belonged to Auntie Myra. She had a letter from Churchill saying thank you for a letter she sent him. Her husband (Uncle Harry) had a handlebar moustache and knew Denis Thatcher. Poor old Harry.

It was dark by the time I got to a small, blue plastic wastebin from our bathroom in Telford Avenue. My younger daughter once did a poo in it, so it has a sort of sentimental value. My elder daughter used to poo in a toy car she had. Potty training is a long, tedious and hard road with many irrelevant diversions along the way. Would I throw the small memory out? Yes. Or perhaps not. Oh alright then. I won’t. But sod it, I must.

The skip is two-thirds full tonight, and I have a horrible feeling it may be too small for my needs. But at £130 plus VAT, it’ll have to do. I may have to jump up and down on the contents tomorrow: it’ll make further room, and serve as an alternative to the gym, which I won’t have time to visit. Later I need to let the utilities people know I’m going, close a bank account, tell the doctor I’m about to move, and send out some change of address cards.

The last of those chores will require another cull of the address book. Do I bother telling Maisy and Ted? They’re probably divorced by now anyway, they never did get on. Or dead. Didn’t get a Christmas card from Richard and Annie this year. Maybe they finally did stop talking about it and actually emigrate. But I must send a card to Carole and Bob, who used to be Carole and Mike, and then had two children very late in life. With Bob, not Mike. Actually she was with me at one point, but that was another lifetime in another place, when we were both far too young to know what we were about.

“Life’s a bitch and then you die”, or so the cheery American adage has it. Well, maybe I’ve been lucky, but for me its “fling the kitsch and then I’ll fly”. And there’ll be no flying without the flinging. Oh yes, as E L Whistey might have said, you have to have the flinging for the flying. But I’m not throwing away my school reports, not for anything or anyone. They will keep me amused until my dying day. “He will have to work much harder if he is to rise above mediocrity,” wrote G R Wood (Chemistry) in 1960. “He does at least try” wrote B S Hannaby (Maths) in 1962. And my favourite from 1961 via I D Jones (Woodwork), “He has no talent for carpentry, but his destructive powers are truly awe-inspiring”.

That is possibly true, although I’m loath to destroy detritus from the past. Nevertheless, the memories are more important than the litter, and so it has to go: it’s a nice place to visit is the past, but you wouldn’t want to live in it. As the man said, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

48 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

    • “Nostalgia” a greek word , “nostos” being the return home , and “algos” being the pain , the suffering .So nostalgia is the pain caused by the yearning to return home.In greek though , the nostos was a kind of sweet anticipation , that is where from the greek word nostimos = delicious .So enjoy the memories JW , as you say ” the memories are more important than the litter” .The books , the furniture , in which we think sometimes the beauty and the sweetness is located will betray us if we trust them .It isn’t in them , don’t let them break your heart.Remembering is stronger than possessing ,compare the memory to any possession and is disappointing and inadequate.As someone that has moved more than 20 homes and countries , and i just got my marching orders again for this coming May , i learned to carry very few “idols” with me.In a kind of strange way i feel relieved and lighter every time i throw away stuff.
      The power of our past and it’s sweetness we carry with us .

      • Yana this is one of the best posts I have ever seen regarding the pain of one of life’s most stressful moments. Thank you for putting something I also have done and will soon be doing again, into context. People keep bashing the baby boomers, but there is not enough thought going into what they are doing now to sustain their children and grandchildren. This will be the second time in 7 yrs that I will be selling my property to make a better life for my children. I don’t think the MSM realize how many boomers are actually doing this. In my small circle of friends and family there are many instances of this, so it must be universal in the west and amongst boomers. Again thank you for your post and the freedom it gives people like me to discard things that are sometimes a weight.

      • Yes, Yana well put. I too find these days that I wish for less and less not more and more, it’s very empowering and unburdening. Physical possession, the desire for it, is greed, and causes more misery than joy in my experience.
        It’s the old saying, ‘Less is more’.

    • Lovely piece of writing John. You should take up short stories. And/or become a regular life-sketch columnist. The politico-economic ones are good but the life-sketches more entertaining!

  1. had to do the same thing myself last week John. And with nothing like the amount of history that you’ve got. Not easy.You have my empathy and sympathy.

  2. A scientist’s view of life:

    “First your born,
    Then you die
    No-one knows why.”

    Well worth keeping are photos and any other memorabilia relating to your early life as they will interest and intrigue your descendants, particularly the young, who never knew you or only as an old gent [as I am too] and find it impossible to imagine that you were then as they are now and they will become as you are now.

  3. I have been through the process twice; the first time was a divorce and the second was when I sold the house because I moved overseas for a few years. The first clean-out was harder than the second and there is no way that I could have sat down and written such an insightful account. Best of British!

    • I too have a copy. Read so many years ago that I remember nowt other than carrots scream when pulled from the earth and the horticultural benefits of music.

  4. Tracy Ullman added to “life’s a bitch and then you die the following “then you go to hell and fry”….. finishing it off with ” I’m going to party in Hell”

  5. Have you heard of freecycle where you put unwanted goods on website and anyone who wants comes to collect it – no payment, but helps others. We even gave away our old door lock!

  6. Some years ago, during a period of transition (divorce, career change, moving house and so on) I went through this process. It involved leaving some things of considerable sentimental value behind, and junking many others. But I also travelled in the other direction, and acquired some replicas of childhood possessions which I had lost along the way – the Dinky double decker bus I had played with in hospital aged five, a fur Davey Crockett hat, and a 1959 Rupert annual. E-Bay is a remarkable thing. It made me feel a whole lot better about myself.

  7. Peggy Lee sang ‘Is that all there is’
    You may regret your big ‘ditch it all now mood’ in 10 years time.
    My old LP records , books and old maps on Africa, aviation history etc and other daft stuff that has historical value but no one wants. what does one do with stuff like that.
    Gumtree on line can be useful.

    • I was surprised to find that some of my old LPs were sought after on ebay. One went for £100.
      I despise waste. It is part of the consumerist culture. Nearly everything is wanted by someone. Freecycle, charity shops, ebay, Gumtree all have their uses.
      I have never put anything in a skip except building waste.

  8. I work on the principle if it hasn’t been ‘accessed’ in the last 12 months then it’s got to go! Yana has hit the nail on the head, it’s not the possession but rather the memory.

    Get that skip filled and stop making excuses…

    • I enjoy walking in Europe for a month each year. I don’t leave home till I have got the weight of my pack down to under 12 lbs. I work on the principal that if I don’t use it every day I don’t take it. It reminds one how little we really need.

    • This is so true……… I have known some well off people in my time. I have known these people deliberately break things rather than let someone have them (when they had originally intended to just throw them away) and someone else expressed an interest in them.

      I would agree that memories are more important than ‘items’ but I have found that it often takes the ‘item’ to bring the memory to full clearness……

      • “I would agree that memories are more important than ‘items’ but I have found that it often takes the ‘item’ to bring the memory to full clearness……”

        Exactly so Morningstar, and JW. The very process of sorting through a life’s accumulations is the only time I’ve found that the memories triggered are as strong and evocative as those provoked by smell.

        As JW has found, so many items embody more than their function. In my case, were it not for unearthing those dust-covered items, too many memories would likewise have remained buried by the sands of time.

        For those of us whose suns are over the yard arm it’s only fair to spend a few moments re-living memories of people and times otherwise ‘filed away’. It kinda gives them respect and puts one’s own life in perspective.

  9. I cleared out my garage a few years ago. Took the whole month of August (out of office hours) and five car loads to the recycling centre. Felt great to get rid of years of crap post divorce.

  10. Being a restless sort I have moved many times and as I get older I just love the lightness of spirit I get from either giving my stuff to the kids or charity shops.
    I don’t think it is the not having to cart it or store it, it just seems to reinforce the message that I’m free.
    And it also doesn’t mean my cottage is anything like minimal either, it’s crammed, but should I move again I may car boot most of it (except for family papers, history etc which will be handed on).
    And that thing with school reports … once upon a time they were written with wit … do you think having to be PC has done away with the memorable pearls once written?

    • Angela agreed. School reports were memorable and very personal. Not PC today. I can vividly remember my mother focusing on one report that said Pamela has the aptitude, but not the attitude. Asking questions in those days was frowned upon, probably the same today.

  11. I tried once to clear my photo collection by selecting the best of them.Twenty two thousand moments in time occupying a lot of digital space. I couldn’t erase a single one of them.
    Made a back up file instead and let them be.
    If we could keep all of our physical belongings in the same manner I’m pretty sure we would.
    It’s so difficult to let go of anything. Be that things, persons or lives.
    Divorce lawyers will happily testify to this.

  12. Happiness isn’t having what we want – it’s wanting what we have!

    Viewing my wardrobe closet and reminded [since a child] I have just
    two or three favorite shirts/sweaters/pants/shoes… that get worn, while
    all the rest ‘just-hang there.’

    Same with coffee or end-tables… seems I purchased them for dust-catchers only.

    But do have some weaknesses… never will see me part with a good hard-tempered screw driver, nor a saw/hammer/wrench. Some have never been used in years, but just know the day after I give such away – I’d need it!
    [Reminds me - better adjust my will - "to be buried-with-such & such] :>)

  13. Most of the junk doesn’t matter, but I’d check those books very carefully.
    When I left home in 1970 my mum chucked all of my stuff out. I’ve forgiven her since for most of it, including my cherished photo of a naked Germaine Greer, but even though she has long passed on, I’ve never been able to fully forgive her for slinging out my 1964 Ian Allen Combi train spotters book with all my numbers underlined.

  14. I am on my 6th move in 14yrs, manly due to having to follow work. The amount of stuff has gradually been reduced, but the last move that went horribly wrong proved that next time there will have to be a huge clear out.

    I hired a box van fortunately with a tail-lift, the person who was supposed to help me had a last minute accident, leaving me to do most of it myself. My partner did what she could, but she is not built for mauling furniture. Took us 18hrs, (the last 4 in torrential rain) to do 2 loads & nearly killed me, it would have been impossible without the tail-lift & sack truck.

    My daughter is going to take the furniture that my late wife restored which I could not face just giving away & other stuff will be offloaded too. My problem is that I seem to have a knack of chucking out stuff that I later need & hanging onto things I do not. Most of my memories are stored in music & photo files on an external hardrive, which is easy to transport.

    Good luck John, hope you find a spot conducive to your creativity, a space that fulfils your every need.

  15. John – I undertook this process back in early autumn. I’ve moved so many times – this is my third and last country – Germany. I had to drive up to UK with a trailer a few years ago, fill up a huge skip as my parents were moving house, and bring the rest back to DE. The most heart rending week I think ever, except for the death of my Mum two years ago. It is like chucking your life away.

    Last autumn I realised I had new crap which needed sorting and I undertook it and blogged about it as “Walden Two”:

    http://iamrogertheshrubber.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/walden-two/
    …and then following that I wrote a series of articles under that category tag:

    http://iamrogertheshrubber.wordpress.com/category/walden-two/

    However, you have to keep tabs on it. You can end up with fresh shit:

    http://iamrogertheshrubber.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/are-you-an-electric-womble/

    Oh dear! :

  16. Thought I was the only one on keeping worthless bits of paper.

    I got some old school reports and other paraphanalia like one scrawny piece of paper that say 99% in a theoretical physics module. Ha, ha do I smile when I see that bit of paper.

    I was pulled aside at the time and told you did not put “let” x = value so the “let” cost me the 1%. Not that there was never going to be any use for this kind of education in this society crazed on services and f’all else.

    I just had to pull them out after this article and a quick peruse.

  17. We know how you feel about preparing for a move.
    Hoping that you’ve got your next step lined up – if not, you’d be welcome to join us on our journey south next september. My sister is coming and would be glad of the company – she reads your articles often and thinks you’re a bit of a hunk. ;-)

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