Saturday, August 21, 2010


Whenever I’m in a holiday cottage, I marvel at the amount of stuff I don’t have with me. Don’t have and don’t need. I take books, paper, a few changes of clothes, nightwear, camera and that’s it apart from the furniture and kitchen things supplied by the owner of the property. Yet at home, I am very far from being a possession-free zone.

This feeling wasn’t so acute in our first cottage this year, which was old, beamy and filled with little knick-knacks of the pottery duck or Toby jug variety. But it came strongly upon me in the Beadnell house. This was much more fashion-mag-like. It had wooden flooring downstairs and what might have been seagrass upstairs (like some horrible endurance test on the bare feet but neutral to the eye). It also had white walls; striped curtains or blinds; and white furniture. No knick-knacks, though a couple of artificial plants, which I disapprove of on principle but which looked fairly realistic and decorative from a distance. And I thought: why don’t I live like this? (Not the fake plants; I refuse to go that far. But the clear spaces.)

Then we came home and I was aghast at the number of books, photos, paintings, bits of china and glass which ornament – or from another point of view clutter – our house.

Now, one person’s knick-knack is another person’s objet d’art and I like my stuff. I love each individual piece. But I think I need a rotation scheme. However, to institute that, I would have to clear out a cupboard, which would involve getting rid of such things as the rosy-posy tea-set that a friend of my parents gave us as a wedding present. I never use it but then again, I might some day.

Some of my bits are inherited, such as the vase (above) that my Granny’s brother gave her for a wedding present shortly before he died from the effects of being gassed in World War 1. Others have been given to me by my husband and children, who know my weaknesses. Others have been things I’ve fallen in love with and requested for birthdays. They’re all pretty and of course in the best of taste. Well, I would think that, wouldn’t I?

And then there are lots of family photos, which are even more precious now that the flesh-and-blood versions are no longer in the house. And far too many books. Every now and then we get more bookshelves and these immediately fill up with the books that were lying along the tops of the shelved tomes. In the end – like now – we revert to this horizontal book-stacking again. I need to have a clear-out because although I do reread favourites quite a lot, there are definitely some which I won’t. About ten, actually, but getting rid of them would be a start. There are lots of books belonging to Mr Life that I would quite happily dispense with, but you know - live and let live.

And plants… the trouble with real ones is that they drop little bits of leaf and petal constantly, like manna from heaven only messier and less edible. Some are genuinely decorative, but some flower only once a year and sit there glumly the rest of the time while I don’t have the heart to chuck them out, and others are cuttings which I can’t quite bear to put on the compost heap.

And let’s not even mention the study, which is… gah. Mind you, a lot of that belongs to Mr Life.

Maybe what we need is not less stuff but a bigger house…


  1. Ahem...there is NO such thing as "too many books".

  2. Agree with Rachel about books - in principle, but there are always some that one feels no affection for at all and can happily take to the charity shop. Husband has books in plenty but fortunately, since we found this house they are all rather better contained whereas they used to fill every spare space - room, landing, staircase etc.
    I always maintained that I could fit my stuff happily into one room of average size, but having quite a lot of room and plenty of cupboards I,too, have branched out a bit - it's like work expanding to fill time, stuff expands to fill cupboards!

  3. I have started culling the book collection, which is unbelievably huge. In fact, I am being quite ruthless. WHY do I still have my university text books from a million years ago? I am not likely to read them again.
    I dream of decluttering. But I am doomed to have a house full of stuff, because I , like you, attach memories to that stuff. Oh well. I will survive with my clutter!

  4. Yes. A Bigger House. But then, after a few years, you'll fill it up and feel the same way. I feel your pain. We need a BIG clean-out here. I have a hard time getting rid of my books, even though I know I'll never re-read them -- I just love to be able to look at them as a memory of the pleasure I had when I read them. I sometimes wonder if a list, or perhaps scrapbook of pictures of the books would serve the same purpose while taking up much less room.

  5. You definitely expand to fit your space, as Thimbleanna says! WE have too much stuff too, and I never have the energy to go through it and cull. Maybe when the children leave home? And as for surfaces, the minute I clear one to have it looking tidy, Mister Fixit plonks down all his belongings and clutters it up again.

  6. I laughed very hard at the last line of this post! We have just done something along those lines and for similar reasons!........

  7. It sounds as though we may have the same disease: objects getting associated with memories. We don't want to lose the memory, so we hang on to the object.

    Initially it's hard to purge, but it seems to get easier as one goes. Sometimes taking a photo of the item makes it easier.

  8. Things multiply behind cupboard and closet doors, I'm just sure of it.

    That is a pretty vase with special memories tho.


  9. My blog title on August 16th was "Stuff." I guess it is a world-wide problem.

  10. For some reason I have no qualms about thinning out my book and movie collection. Perhaps it's because I know at a glance what is "always" and what was good just the once.

    But just today, I asked my husband to stop at our post office box on the way home. He arrived with his arms full (literally) of boxes, and a puzzled look on his face. Every single box held a vintage Christmas tablecloth.

    Can't imagine who ordered all those... can you?