Saturday, 20 June 2009


It's a great word, isn't it?

In the early days I had lots of conflicting advice about what to do about R's stuff. Some said get rid of it quickly, others said don't make any hasty decisions. I suspect this had more to do with the advice-giver's own attitude towards clutter than any sound evidence-based research.

R's Mum had a serious shopping habit, and it really showed in their home. After she died, his Dad went through the house like a whirlwind. Just over 2 years later, it seems almost spartan. He has a few photographs and ornaments that bring back good memories for him and has bought a couple of new pictures that he loves, otherwise the walls and flat surfaces are nearly bare. I don't feel this has anything to do with not wanting to keep too many memories about him. I just think that after over 50 years of clutter he is enjoying the house as he likes it - neat and tidy!

R appeared to have inherited an attenuated form of the shopping gene, although the symptoms may have worsened as he got older. He was also a collector of Potentially Useful Things. His collection of useful bits of wood takes up serious real estate. If anyone ever needs a tyre valve cap, please let me know as I have a packet of 99. There were 100 but I have actually used one. As this is the first new valve cap I have ever required in my life, I calculate that, at this rate of use, I have enough to last me until the year 5908!

I would say that I lean more to the 'throw it out' side than the hoarding tendency, but even so I have found it harder than I imagined to rehome his belongings. It was actually easier in the early days. I looked at an object, and if it didn't make me think of R, then out it went. Simple!

Subsequent passes through the house have been harder, so I have to use different techniques. Take his clothes, for example. I simply took to wearing his jeans and T-shirts. I have also put most of his shirts to one side in order to make quilts and cushions from them this winter. That left quite a lot of things that I just couldn't decide upon, so I had to tackle these obliquely. Last week I had a great purge of my own wardrobe which, in the warped logic of the bereaved, gave me permission to look at his clothes with a harder eye.

Another example is the lean-to. This is an indoor-outdoor area at the back of our house. I have wanted to pull it down since the first day we arrived here, but it proved just too useful for storage and as a makeshift workshop to do that. As a result, it became the repository for everything that couldn't find a home elsewhere. It houses a large portion of his wood collection, not to mention a whole lot of tools and general 'stuff' that I know I will never use myself. It also contains the chest freezer, my potting bench and our bicycles, which I can only get to by climbing over a whole lot of other objects. So I have set myself the challenge of getting it cleared and sorted by the end of July.

I shall start with that Useful Wood.
Wish me luck!


  1. Good luck! My husband also was a hoarder of potentially useful things which I used to tease him about and now I feel like the joke is on me! I'm going to tackle our garage, the home of many of his treasures, this summer. I haven't yet felt like I was ready to go through his clothes. One thing at a time.....

    Let us know how your cleaning project goes.

  2. A girlfriend of mine, 7 years after her husband died, finally got around to clearing out the basement. He'd brought a 20-year-old washer and dryer across 3 states 10 years prior. And never used it.

    It sure gets easier to speak ill of the dead, doesn't it?



  3. OMG, I know I am not as far along this journey as you are, but in my estimation, YOU ARE SO SO BRAVE. I had to laugh at your description of useful things ... my home, the garage, the garden, the hot tub house, the shed, the workshop is FULL OF THEM! For now, I've decided to hold onto everything because I'm not strong enough to do anything else and they still give me comfort. One day. NOT YET. Good luck J xxx let us know how you get along with this.

  4. @ Debbie: Good luck with your own winnowing programme!. For me, tools and general manly junk are quite neutral - they don't upset me like scraps of paper with his handwriting or a drawer full of neatly-ironed white cotton handkerchiefs do - which is part of the reason why I have decided to tackle this area of the house first.

    @ Supa: I am pretty sure that there is an old dryer underneath the pile of wood, so I can empathise with your friend! I don't know about speaking ill, but it certainly becomes easier to laugh at him again as the months go on!

    @ Boo: No, not brave at all. I just seem to have a need for order in my life right now, and having to negotiate an obstacle course to get to the freezer doesn't go a long way towards fulfilling that need! There are so many daft things around the house that I don't think I can ever get rid of, but over the last 10 months I have learned that he isn't in a heap of wood or pile of socks. He's in my heart, and can't ever be removed from there.
    But this is something you have to come to see in your own time and at your own pace. Don't let anyone rush you.

  5. J - Such good advice in your response to Boo. I've been getting our farm ready to sell (it's now a little over 9 months since Don died). My decision to sell the farm has forced me to evaluate our "stuff" and decide which things to bring and which to give away. Clothing was actually the most difficult for me. In the end, I just went through all of Don's clothes and retained anything that reminded me of him - his favourite t-shirts, jeans, jackets, etc.. They give me a feeling of closeness when I hold them. I have kept almost everything in his handwriting, including shopping lists which were in his jacket pockets, and which I replaced and will keep there (this seems a little like curating a museum). My husband and I were both "savers" and kept anything we thought we could use to make or repair something. I was actually more the handyman in the family, so if anything, I'm the guilty party. Our tools belonged to both of us. So, it's been more a case of getting rid of things I don't think will be needed in the next place. I don't ever intend to keep horses again, but have 3 saddles that I just can't seem to part with yet, but which I think I'll try to donate to a stable that has a therapeutic riding program for handicapped kids. It seems that I have less problem giving our stuff away when I know it is going to do someone else some good. Anyhow, best of luck with the winnowing process. I'm almost done and actually feeling okay about it now. Hope you'll feel the same.

  6. yes, I have already decided that when the time comes, and I will know when I am ready, I am going to keep all clothes that have a memory. I will keep his handwriting too :-) All the useful stuff that isn't needed for the house, and will therefore be leftover when the house is finished, will GO, e.g. lumps of wood, wire, etc etc!!!! His "treasures" I will have to keep too. Slowly, slowly xxxx

  7. @ Bev: I am amazed at what you have achieved in such a short time. In some ways I envy the way you have narrowed down what is really important to you and decided to take a journey into the unknown. I know that I could no more do that than sprout wings and fly - I have a real, deep-down need to feel safe and rooted - but it won't stop me enjoying your freedom and travels vicariously!

  8. J - Part of me did want to hunker down and try to make my world as safe as possible. However, when Don died, I gave a lot of thought to what I would like my future to be like, and decided that I had to learn to be as self-reliant as possible if I wanted to continue to do the kind of traveling, camping, etc.. that he and I had always done together. I was worried that, if I didn't work on learning that kind of independence right away, I might never have what it would take later on. Traveling was difficult, but I learned a lot about myself and acquired a lot of coping skills along the way. I think the traveling was good for Sabrina too. I don't know what the future will bring, but I hope to be ready for whatever path I end up taking. And please do "travel along". Hopefully, the ride will be interesting!

  9. It's harder than it seems, this -- since even a pile of wood can get emotional at times.

    I'll swear that on the day I sold Jenny's car, some years later (I drove it dutifully into the ground for four years until it threatened to break down once too often), it watched me sadly, if not quite vengefully, as I drove away.

    I've never quite forgotten that moment of betrayal. And it was only bloody metal.

    Stuff will cling onto you, if you let it -- and that's exactly what we all do, of course.