Cecile Levin, author of A Piece of Cake, reflects on downsizing her home and clearing clutter.
“Great news!” David, my husband beamed. “The sale’s gone through – we move in three months”
Three months?! We’d lived in our home for 35 years, and now I was expected to get rid of everything, leaving just enough to furnish a flat? Impossible!
He tried to console me – irritatingly. The furniture and big items would be easy – we’ll do that together – they’ll either fit into the flat or they won’t, and the personal things shouldn’t be a problem for you.
I’m the worst at decluttering. I can’t throw anything out. It’s the memories that go with my treasures that mean so much to me. David assured me it would be a cathartic exercise, and was convinced our kids would want some of the things.
Well, the kids didn’t want anything. No, to the silverware, the China tea sets and the linen tablecloths painstakingly cross-stitched by my own fair hand. “But they’re family heirlooms,” I pointed out. “Maybe,” they said, “But they’ve done their time.”
In that case, out with their school reports, varsity notes, and nursery school ‘art’. They couldn’t believe I’d kept them all. What I didn’t tell them was that I still had my own school reports. Rereading them brought memories rushing back and made me feel young again. When I showed David the box of his own reports and school memorabilia he shrugged indifferently. Men have no sense of the importance of family history.
I labelled two boxes, one an Out-Box and the other an In-Box, to help me decide what to keep and what to get rid of. This didn’t work though, because I kept removing the few things from the Out-Box and placing them in the In-Box, just in case…
I allowed myself to linger over the shoeboxes filled with telegrams, letters, and cards from family occasions. I felt justified reliving those times before taking the cards to be repurposed at the nearby retirement home, and throwing out most of the rest.
I knew the boxes of photographs would be problematic. It was tough throwing away treasured memories of bygone days; snap shots of friends I’d lost contact with, or who’d emigrated, and others who now have Alzheimers, or are no longer with us.
There was that one special photo I just had to keep. A moment frozen in time: the only X-ray of my twins in utero, taken three weeks before their arrival – they’re now 44!
Over to my books, many of them life-long friends. As an only child, I was never lonely: the characters came alive as my friends and family. My Enid Blyton books are now read by our grandchildren, but 10 bags’ worth were reluctantly delivered to the local library.
Having survived the decluttering nightmare myself, here is my advice for compulsive hoarders: take with you those things you can’t part from, and maybe, in time, you’ll try again. Or at the worst, your children will have to make the decisions when you’re gone.
As we drove out of the gate, we were relieved, but also saddened. Starting out, I thought my decluttering journey would be hard, but taking a trip down memory lane made the experience that much sweeter. A Piece of Cake!
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