Tag Archives: decluttering


I’m probably not the coolest person in iTunes tonight. I’m going through a pile of CDs to see whether or not I like them… many were charity shop gifts from Mum that I never got around to trying. Two CDs so far came back with the message ‘Couldn’t find the song titles online – do you still want to import them?’

I said “no” (I never fully saw the sense of importing them, except that it means I don’t have to get up and rootle through a mound of CDs when I want to hear Enola Gay by OMD. But what does it mean that they don’t have the song titles… that my CDs are not the hottest ones out there?? Twice in a row!)

I didn’t like the first CD (so let’s forget what it was) but I found myself enjoying the second… something I’ve never listened to in my life before, by a band that didn’t sound familiar… Quern in Concert 2. The other CD was too high-pitched for me, but Quern had good, strong, resonant notes and voices. Good, good. I relaxed. Then I came across something a bit spooky…

I’ve mentioned before how I keep getting ‘musak’ in my ears in default of anything else  (could be the brain filling in where there’s no sound, or not enough to make sense of something). I had no idea where certain bright tunes came from, but I was halfway through Track 11 (Selection of Strathspeys) when my hair stood on end. That sound was definitely one of them. Track 12 was just as familiar (Scandinavian Touch), as was Track 13 (Music of French Canada).

Earlier, Track 10 (The Skylark) was familiar too, but not in the same way as the following tracks. Probably because it’s sweeter and less aggressive.

There must be some explanation… perhaps these are very common tunes, especially on TV and radio? Or in shops and cafes? I don’t know for sure where I’ve heard them before or why they haunt me so determinedly. I don’t think I do any sleep-playing of CDs! I asked Mum and sister if they play this music, and they both said “Quern? Never heard of them.”

To start with, I found myself reluctant to go through this pile of CDs I’d personally never heard of. I had no problem with anything new when I was younger — as far as I was concerned, music was music, and likely to be good. Nowadays I feel sure that CDs will be dull or inaudible — but so far I’m keeping more CDs from that pile than I’m ditching!

(Places Quern on the ‘keep’ pile. Especially love that Skylark…)

PS: It’s obvious what my cat Delilah thinks of the CDs. I was trying out The Stranglers, whose CD was in my ‘ho hum’ pile because the only song I liked on previous playings was Golden Brown but now there are a couple more, like La Folie, so it’s still a keeper). Delilah listened with horror to the CD and stared at the psychedelic screensaver squirming and twisting… after five minutes of this, she turned round and hid her head under the curtain. I don’t think she will be going to The Stranglers in Concert any time soon…

Topsy-Turvy Reading

Tinting nowhere near finished...

Decided I couldn’t carry on reading Doctor Syn on the High Seas as it was so bad! Even when you think “it’s short and I’ll soon finish,” you find that you would rather do something else than pick it up.

Cast it aside in favour of A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul… I never read the first helping. Mum got this paperback from a stall and gave it to me years ago, and there it was taking up space on the bookshelves, so I decided to give it a go.

My first thought was that it’s annoying in places, and sets your teeth on edge in others, but there are some good, funny and genuinely touching bits, and is a much better read than Doctor Syn. I can pick the bits I want to read and skip the rest.

I’m reading all the books I probably won’t keep, in an effort to free up space on the bookshelves — and that’s a bit topsy-turvy, as it means I’m reading the less desirable books over the ones I’m cherishing (and not yet reading!) Mum said I should go through the classics  I probably won’t read again. I suppose she means Aeschylus and Aristophanes. But I’m always referring to them! Seriously…

The next day I was still ricochetting through the Chicken Soup when Mum came home and handed me two digital photography manuals from the library. So far the first book (50 Fast Digital Photo Projects by Gregory Georges and Lauren Georges) hasn’t taught me anything new (I think it’s for absolute beginners), but it did inspire me to go upstairs and try tinting a monochromatic photo of our shed.

This shoogly shed from Argos was the one Mum thought we would have to live in if the credit crunch really bit. I suppose having a print of it to sell wouldn’t be such a bad idea. We could run off 50 copies, and if nobody wanted to buy them, we could use them to paper over the cracks in the walls of our new home. I nearly said ‘100 copies’ but I think 50 copies would quite comfortably cover them.

I eventually got cross with the Chicken Soup book because chicken soup is meant to be comforting, and this wasn’t. There is a lot of material about saying or showing your love to family members before they die, and those are in sections such as ‘love’ and ‘family’. I skipped more and more (mopping at my eyes), and when we arrived at a whole section called ‘Death and Dying’, I gave up.

I would rather listen to Dido, and tint monochromatic images of our shed.

And I try to pick out tunes, I hum a little,
a good cure for sleep, and the tears start,
I cry for the hard times come to the house,
no longer run like the great place of old.

Oh for a blessed end to all our pain,
some godsend burning through the dark…

[The Oresteia by Aeschylus, translated by Robert Fagles]

DVD Reclutter

I bought a few sale-price DVDs from Amazon.

Oh, I know, we are supposed to be decluttering, not recluttering. Part of the rationale, though, is that when the new ones turn up, I will be able to get rid of… ahem… at least a few videos.

There’s one film I’ve been craving for ages, and if it ever shows up on a non-subscription channel on TV, I’ve never been around to see it. The DVD was just under £6, but as it’s hard to get and I really liked it, I decided I’d go for it anyway. Popped it in my Amazon basket and went to look at a few other DVDs… added another, and the basket said:

“Important information: the price of an item has changed since you added it to your basket three minutes ago… your favourite DVD has come down from £5.97 to £3.08”.

Oh… thank you, Amazon. 🙂

Rushed to the checkout before they changed their minds.

A Tale of Two Kittens (or the Duvet that Came into its Own)

Last night I dreamed I had been reminded (to my surprise) that I used to have two cats, but for some reason or another had given them to someone else. Couldn’t afford to keep them at the time… that was pure dreaming, as these cats did not exist in my life!

In the dream I was shown pictures and reminded how I had called one of them after Arthur Wendell, and everybody called him Art for short.

I struggled awake, saying “I can’t tell the blog about that; I can’t give the real names of my pets,” then woke up fully and realized I haven’t called a cat that anyway. I don’t know who Arthur Wendell is. It was in my mind that he was a historian, but I’ve not been reading or researching anything by anyone with that name.

It’s odd what falls out of the mind when you let it run around by itself. I know there used to be a white cat in a catfood commercial called Arthur.

I forgot all about the dream till my sister sent an email saying she had been trundling around today much as usual, then someone got in touch with her and said “hello, do you remember these two kittens you homed with me? I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked, but I thought you might like an update.” And sent some photos.

My sister was fascinated, and said she hadn’t thought about them in a while. I looked at the photos and said one of them had a particularly distinctive face.
“I don’t recognize that one at all,” she said.
“Are they right about him being one of yours? Are they sure a goblin didn’t snatch the real kitten and leave a changling?”
“I wondered. Perhaps I shouldn’t have called him Gobbolino,” she said. (His name was changed by the owners – when I made that remark, I didn’t even know what his name used to be!)

Late at night Mum went to bed, then came upstairs grumbling that some cat had peed on her bed and completely messed up her duvet. She got a blanket out of the cupboard and was about to take that downstairs when I reminded her there was a spare duvet draped on the sofa… it was clean and washed, and all she really needed to do was change the cover.

This is one of those rather distracting moments… you know that it’s a good thing to ‘travel light’ so to speak, and rather than hoard stuff, you should get used to discarding (or rehoming!) the things you do not personally need. Storing things up ‘just in case’ is supposed to be a no-no.

Much of the time that makes sense. When you keep all the things you might use, and then go looking for something when it finally might be useful, you can never find it because of all the other things you’ve kept just in case they’ll be useful.

After a long, hard struggle, you’re just getting used to this idea of a more ascetic life and are steeling yourself to discard more things… then life throws a spanner into the works, in the form of doubt. The duvet on the sofa was a spare one from my house that we didn’t have room for. There was no room left in any of the cupboards, or in the loft, or in my bedroom. I couldn’t bring myself to chuck it out, though, and it wasn’t quite new enough for a charity shop, so I put an old duvet cover on it (one I had been meaning to throw out of course, but was quite fond of because it went to university with me), and draped the whole lot over my sofa. To keep it clean and comfortable, and so I can crawl under it and watch the TV if it’s one of those days. Why not?

Don’t you think now that it’s a good thing I didn’t throw it out?

Well, having a spare duvet was probably one of our better ideas. The real bad idea is keeping all the stuff that shoved the spare duvet out of the wardrobe in the first place… but I don’t want to think about that too much. It just proves my priorities are possibly in the wrong place, and that’s even more depressing than being labelled a hoarder.

Wallowing in the World of Books

Iain’s book-related post Ordeals led me to the following reflections.

I tried very hard to read Old Mortality by Sir Walter Scott and couldn’t stick with it. Nor was I fond of the only Brontë books I ever read – Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. One classic I keep meaning to read is Middlemarch by George Eliot. It’s been staring reproachfully at me for 23 years.

Troublesome books aside, I recognize the formless, hungry desire to read everything as soon as it’s brought to mind. Only two days ago I was pining after The Wind in the Willows, which was being talked about on someone’s blog. I’ve read it more than once, but always feel I remember it imperfectly and need one more go to get it absolutely crystal clear. I feel that way about most books I’ve enjoyed.

Around the house are hundreds of books waiting their turn. I have four on the go right now… Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry, The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George (so heavy it makes your wrists ache), Know Your Cat by John Horsford Hickey and Priscilla Beach (dates from 1946) and a fourth book I’m keeping quiet about for now.

I have difficulty figuring out which to go for. I would read them simultaneously if I could, but settle for reading them in different rooms.

The only reason I didn’t say I was reading five books is that I stopped in the middle of Rest Upon the Wind by Gill Twissell. I kept waiting for it to start and couldn’t get interested in any of the characters. Possibly the novel came together further on, but I was exactly halfway through and still not hooked. It has five stars in Amazon so maybe I was just impatient; my experience of the book is the exact opposite of at least one UK reviewer’s.

Regarding something else the reviewers hinted at, I did get the feeling that the two main characters were the same, but I hadn’t (at that stage) spotted any overt suggestion of reincarnation. It could be that everything falls into place at a later point, but the blurred boundaries between the two women was one of the things that made it seem so monotone.

Moving on to reading sources, my main difficulty with libraries is that I never remember to return the books until the deadline. I’ve had to walk to town and back when my plans for the day did not involve going out. That’s a real shortcut to putting me in a foul mood, especially when I’ve not finished reading. I could renew, but usually feel I might as well get rid of them now, as they would only drag me out again at a later date.

Bought books, on the other hand, can be returned to the general reading pool at my leisure. Foul moods neatly sidestepped – till the next thing goes wrong.

As for not cluttering up the house with books I’ve read and enjoyed – that’s something I’m really struggling with. It’s fine to pass the more ordinary paperbacks to charity or to someone else, but I tend to want to keep the ones I liked. Such as Brother Odd by Dean Koontz – it’s sitting in my bookcase, flanked by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.

One way I’ve got round my reluctance is to pass the best books to my sister. I don’t even give her the chance to refuse them – I just give her a bag of books and say “these were very good – that’s why I picked them out.” I feel then that they’re still in the family, being enjoyed by someone else. I know it doesn’t stop there, but I don’t have to think about them any more. Either she reads them or she doesn’t; she keeps them or passes them on. I’ll never know, and I don’t particularly want to.

As for the Odd books by Dean Koontz… the aim is to collect them all and then give them to my sister with the words “these are wonderful, you’re not allowed to not read them.” Gives me the excuse to hang on to them a little longer…

Painting My Territory

Some people love painting their houses. They finish redecorating and promptly start planning a new colour scheme for next year. Nothing is ever allowed to peel or get dingy and flaky. But I hate painting. Probably because it takes me ages to do, and I manage to get paint everywhere, including the taps in the bathroom. No matter how carefully I prepare and clean the area, the fresh paint is quickly teeming with fluff, dirt and lumps – and when I paint outdoors, there are always greenflies and tiny spiders wriggling in it, which makes me feel bad.

I hate the paint itself, and the vicious fluid that cleans the paintbrushes. Mum said I could wash the brushes with water – but it didn’t turn out like that. It washed off, then stuck back on. So we had to fetch the vicious stuff from the shed to sort it out.

I said “I’m the worst painter in the family.”
“That’s not possible,” said Mum. “Your father was the worst painter in the family.”
Maybe so – but he’s not alive any more, so that puts me in pride of place. It makes me feel a little better – I can blame my painting failures on him!

Later, I was flicking quickly through a small book on decluttering that Mum left lying around. (I can’t give title or author at the moment, as it’s still at her house). It said “you can’t take it with you”, then elaborated. It said that we never own things outright, even if we think we do. We don’t even own our own bodies – they are on temporary loan from the universe. And if something we possess gets lost or damaged, we might think it’s a terrible calamity, but in fact it’s not going to spoil our lives – generally we can live without ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ was.

I discussed this with Mum. I was no stranger to the idea that we own nothing. The houses themselves are not ours – we live in them for a while and then we move out, and other people move in. Antiques and collectables are not ours – we simply look after them for a while, then pass them on. I’ve known this since I was a teenager. It doesn’t stop me feeling possessive about things that I think are ‘mine’. My house. My cats. My teeth.

I felt there was something not quite right about the author’s theories, though I agreed with some of it – I haven’t put my finger on exactly what. It’s reassuring that ultimately I can depart this mortal coil, and nothing matters all that much, but…

If we really don’t own anything, not even our own bodies, that means there is much else that we don’t own. Husbands, wives, partners? If we don’t own our own bodies, we certainly don’t ‘have’ children. Does one have a life? What about the food we eat? Do we own that? In theory the food is free-floating, and if someone comes along and grabs it from you, they have as much right to eat it as you do – but if they grab it from you every time, and never let you have a bite, you will eventually die. At some point you have to insist on keeping that food. Reminds me of a TV commercial that’s on just now – the girl is moody and pushes her plate away, but when someone tries to take it, the girl goes into attack mode and grates: “touch my food, feel my fork!” She owns that food, alright.

Then there’s the issue about damage or loss of possessions not being the end of the world. I can’t help feeling there’s something more to that than simple possessiveness. Perhaps you have lost an item that gave you something that nothing else could do in quite that way. Maybe the jacket made you look especially smart, and you got a job when you wore it to an interview. Maybe the dress brought out the colour of your eyes and made you feel better as a result. Maybe the draft you wrote was going to be your bestseller and you couldn’t rewrite it quite as well. Even if it’s something you haven’t had time to get attached to yet, you will feel you didn’t get the use of it for your money. If you lose all these things, they won’t ruin your life but they can affect it up to a point. It’s telling that, even while saying “you don’t own anything, not even your life,” you have to use the words “your life.” Your life. What other words are you going to use?

Then again, there are things we have no particular need to keep… you liked the dress, but even if you get full use out of it, it will fall apart eventually. When I pointed that out, Mum laughed, and said “like men and their jackets. They can never let go. Even if it’s old and limp and all out at the elbows, with the cupboard full of snazzy new ones, they won’t let you throw it out because ‘that’s my GOOD jacket.'”

Sometimes it’s a case of altering our mindset towards the items that we ‘own’. When we are used to thinking of something as being ‘good’, it can be hard to let it go. Though Mum had a qualification even there: “it might have been a more comfortable jacket than the others.”

Well, I’ve just had to throw out my extra large denim shirt. For years I wore it as a kind of light jacket with the sleeves rolled up, but now it’s worn completely through at collar, elbows and cuffs. I have put it in the rag bag with the other rejected clothes. I gave it a wash first, hung it up to dry, then placed it in the bag last, with a pat and a hug. It’s on its way back to the universe.

Edit Feb 2008: Comments for this entry (copied across from the old blog site):

1. Pacian wrote at Feb 20, 2007 at 16:59:
“In theory the food is free-floating, and if someone comes along and grabs it from you, they have as much right to eat it as you do – but if they grab it from you every time, and never let you have a bite, you will eventually die.”

And yet couldn’t it be argued that by repeatedly grabbing it from you, they are really claiming ownership of it, in a rather underhanded fashion? Or perhaps you’re right, and in this case a more socialist notion of collective property is necessary, and the food should be eaten by whichever of you needs it most…

Because, of course, in the opposite case to your scenario, if you keep all the food that you own to yourself, then those who owned no food would starve instead.

2. Diddums wrote at Feb 21, 2007 at 01:30:

All food for thought…

I’ve been realizing that there’s an assumption that ‘you’ (your spirit) are separate from the universe in all sorts of ways – we are borrowing our bodies from the universe but are not part of it ourselves. I suggest that we are part of the universe (both spirit and body) and therefore own everything just as much as we own nothing. Not sure where that gets us in the food-grabbing dilemma. 🙂

3. kateblogs wrote at Feb 22, 2007 at 17:37:
Hmm, yes, I see what you mean. If we are borrowing our bodies from the universe how can we be separate from it? Surely that would mean we are not part of this universe and originate elsewhere and if the writer expects the reader to believe that, he/she is making all sorts of assumptions, not least that the reader shares his/her view of the reality of ‘things’.

4. geosomin wrote at Feb 22, 2007 at 19:13:
I love painting…but hate all the stuff leading up to the color part.

My husband on the other hand is cursed – I watch him paint and it should look good…but it always looks terrible when he paints. So usually he hangs out while I paint and brings me coffee and tries to make me laugh hard enough to fall off the ladder. Makes it more fun for both of us.

Hope the moving/settling is coming along well…

The idea of ownership and “stuff” is always something I struggle with. I like to think I’m not too materialistic, but there are sentimental things that matter to me…on the other hand I firmly believe I own my life…as much as I can. I don’t want to be guilty for having things I like, and yet I don’t want them to ever be the reason I live for. Maybe I’m an optimist and stubborn, but I don’t want someone else dictating what I do or say…I believe in giving and helping, but if you wear yourself out for others is that healthy? It’s when my life is taken over by other things that make it feel as though it isn’t my own that I generally get at odds with things and myself.

5. Diddums wrote at Feb 23, 2007 at 23:37:

It would be interesting to think we are not the centre of the universe, but the universe itself… ‘we are stardust’, or something.

Mum’s ‘let us paint together’ technique is to have me using a roller on the middle parts of the wall while she does the edges and fiddly bits with a small roller and a brush. It doesn’t stop me splodging paint on the new wallpaper, though…

“Maybe I’m an optimist and stubborn, but I don’t want someone else dictating what I do or say…”

That’s exactly why I wouldn’t go on one of those programmes – I’m sure there were several in which people had to declutter their houses, and they were made to get rid of some things they obviously didn’t want to give away. Even worse, there was a ‘crusher’, so when they sold their things, they could keep maybe one thing but the rest had to go in the crusher. Well maybe someone else would have liked those things and just wasn’t at the boot sale…

Someone who was keeping clothes as souvenirs was told to cut squares from them and throw out the rest. I’m quite sure she eventually ditched the entire box because they just wouldn’t have meant anything.

6. Bunnyman wrote at Feb 27, 2007 at 20:59:
I’m for the stardust theory.

Methinks we’re are all made up of tiny pieces of the Universe, even our souls – the breath that brings our fleshy substance to life. One moment we’re here, one moment elsewhere. Like my “good” jacket, one day I’ll wear out and all my pieces will eventually be recycled (hopefully minus lumps).

Mind you, while I’m still here, I too feel possessive about my teeth, More importantly perhaps, so do my gums.

I had been hoping to find volunteers to help me with the painting … I’ll keep looking 🙂

7. Diddums wrote at Feb 28, 2007 at 01:45:
Good decision – you really wouldn’t want me painting ‘delicately’ round the window or skirting board. 🙂 And I was trying to roller the ceiling (that’s a horrible job) and suddenly there was a loud clatter and the roller fell off the stick and thudded down onto the blankets which were protecting the carpet. Mum came over to investigate and put her foot in the paint. Sigh.