I’m in the process of moving house and yet again I’m reminded of the pointlessness of many of the possessions we accumulate during our lives.
Why do we do it? What is this instinct to hoard memorabilia and souvenirs that have no real purpose?
For the past six years or so, our house in Cornwall was rented out to tenants while Carolyn and I gadded about teaching in Portugal, riding a tandem around the world and generally escaping from responsibility and ties.
Now, though, we’re back in the UK and it made no sense getting rent for a house we owned in one part of the country while we paid to live in somebody else’s. The only winners were the agents and tax people.
So, having just exchanged contracts on the house in Truro, me and Carolyn drove down to Cornwall over the weekend to clear out the loft, which still contained an assortment of our belongings.
It was quite a task. There was just so much… stuff! Boxes and boxes of it. Maybe it’s partly because of my age. I’m 47 and I’ve done quite a few things and have been to quite a lot of places. Lots of opportunities to accumulate ‘stuff’. But do I need it?
There were bits of furniture and furnishings, boxes of photo albums, maps and guidebooks, board games, travel souvenirs, childhood mementos, spare bedding, framed pictures and photos, hi-fi equipment, my old computer… etc, etc.
I also found stacks and stacks of old writing. Some of it was printouts of different versions of my novels, sometimes with scribbled notes and corrections. I also found lots of tatty exercise books – dating back to as long ago as 1980 – full of teenage poems, thoughts and bits of stories.
Now, if I was a really famous author, maybe I could set up the ‘Huw Thomas Library’ and academics could pore over my adolescent musings and see how my writing has developed over the decades. But I’m not in that league and to be honest I’m far too busy trying to finish my latest novel. I haven’t got time to be embarrassed by the things I wrote when I was full of hormones and anxiety.
I have kept a small selection of finished ‘works’ but most of it went straight into the paper recycling skip.
We also had boxes and boxes of books, many of them good. But I’ve read them all before. I could re-read some of them again but there are so many other stories out there. I’ve already got more books on my Kindle than I have time to read – and they take up much less space!
There were also all those mementos and souvenirs. Glancing at some of them did bring back memories. But do I really need ‘things’ to make my brain remember? After all, if I can’t remember an event or occasion without something physical to prompt me then maybe it wasn’t so special after all.
There’s only room for so much stuff in our lives. Or in a two-bedroom house with limited storage space.
One van-load of stuff went straight to the tip/recycling depot. Most of it, though, has been brought back up to Hampshire and put into storage before we move into our new house. We’ve got good intentions of going through a lot of the boxes and weeding it down further. Whether we will or not is another matter.
The thing is, when we were living in Portugal we had a rented flat and we couldn’t take more possessions than would fit into our car. When we were on our year-long cycling trip, we had to fit everything – including camping gear – into four cycle panniers and our trailer.
Having spent quite a few hours over the weekend lugging all that ‘stuff’ out of the loft and into the van, I quite miss that clutter-free life. I want to be ruthless and get rid of more!
But sometimes it’s difficult. I don’t think I could get rid of all my photos. There’s also my full set of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica – all 35 volumes of it… oh, and the nine-volume 10th edition that supplemented it. They’re so marvelously out of date but full of all kinds of esoterica. Although they are quite heavy!
And as for the little pig? Well, about 20 years ago, my brother and his wife came to visit me at my first house, up in Cumbria, and my little nephew Owen left this pig on my hearth. For many years the pig lived next to my computer along with a small dragon and a piece of coral!
I wanted to be ruthless but for some reason I couldn’t throw away the pig. Maybe I should post him back to Owen – now a university student in New Zealand!