Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Throwing My Life Away
"Sorry for not replying to your chatty letter sooner but we've been rather busy. We've finally had to put Oma Hannah into a care home, we just couldn't cope any more." (1991)
"Clare and I have been for a lovely day out in London last Tuesday, such a pity you couldn't come. We had a great time on the South Bank, snooping around the book stalls, looking in at the Gallery and having lunch at the Festival Hall. Clare was fine . . . . " (1989)
"We have to cut back on holidays this year, the economic downturn is taking great bites out of our budget, John's job is by no means secure and I'm facing short-time work myself." (1997)
'How hard can it be to throw away old letters', I asked myself. I'm never going to have biographers clamouring for every word I've ever written or received. No one I know will ever end up in the archives of the British Library, their literary legacy examined by future historians. 'Get rid of the stuff', I told myself, and Beloved too, of course. Stacks of A4 envelopes crammed with letters in bursting box files, in the drawers of desks and on shelves in various rooms, gathering dust. 'But these are of great interest to me', my Inner Hoarder whined, 'a chronicle of my life'. 'Sentimental claptrap'. I said. (I can be quite brutal with myself sometimes.)
Or how about this: For many years I have kept brochures and throwaways from every place we've ever visited, neatly (I am neat to a fault) filed, again in A4 envelopes, with the name of the country/county written on the outside for easy retrieval. I am not talking here about solid guide books - I have them too, of course, but they have their own shelves in the book cases -, but flimsy, mostly free, local maps, town plans, what-to-see and what-to-do in Upper-Micklemuckle-on-the-Mildew. "Surely you are not expecting me to throw them away too? They'll come in handy, you'll see'. The Inner Hoarder is still at it. But I am on a roll, the Hoarder doesn't stand a chance. Out with them! Papers, brochures, letters, going, going, gone. And no, I am not going to stop and listen to the ever fainter voice of the Hoarder; 'Just a tiny little peek, there might be something important in that lot'.
Not only have I made a start filling the paper recycling boxes but I've also taken those embarrassing chick-lit novelists off my book shelves - there are more to come, but withdrawal from any drug is meant to happen gradually. Tomorrow the dog lady is coming to collect the ramp we borrowed to help Benno climb into the car during his last six months on this earth. The dog charity runs a shop selling donated gifts, books and household items of good quality. They will be very happy to receive them, as well as more than half of my entire stock of preserving and bottling jars. Time was when I filled them, year after year, with jams, jellies, fruit, vegetables and even preserved meats. No more, Been there, done that; it's time to broaden my horizons and take up hang-gliding instead. Or perhaps I'll join the Women's Institute and learn how to stuff a mushroom.
All this new-found desire to de-clutter is not because I've had a sudden rush of blood to the head but because I saw a friend of mine, who had moved house, stand in the middle of an unbelievably chaotic jumble of stuff in her new house. She was quite cheerful, considering; in her place, I'd have been ready to join the Foreign Legion and go to war in the desert.