You may have realised that I’m a bit of a hoarder. Whether this is by nature or nurture I don’t know. My husband is not much better, although in his case, he may have caught it from me.
In the last few years, we have become a good deal better at decluttering. In 2019, both children having gone to university, we thought we’d finally get round to decluttering completely, and even tackling the attic with its decades of ‘stuff’. Then of course, 2020 hit and one child, and then the other and then my son’s partner, all came home to live, each complete with a flat’s worth of belongings. Now they’ve all gone again (albeit leaving us with some of their belongings) and since we’ve both semi-retired, we’re back to plan A.
This month we have been tackling the kitchen which, after many years of being on its last legs is being replaced, and excavating the bureau (not as fancy as it sounds) to make space for some of the surplus stuff from the kitchen drawers, as the new configuration is slightly different. The whole process (not yet complete) has been like a combination of archaeological dig and detoxification as we decide what to ditch, donate or cherish (can’t think of a third D).
When I say my hoarding might be nature or nurture, it’s because of my dad. I think he was part (friendly) dragon who hoarded almost everything except gold. He’d have been rubbish at hoarding any gold other than his heart, because he’d have used it to buy things he found more interesting.
Knowing him, I can imagine him thinking that each item he owned (four million more items than I own) from battered novelty mug to box of beads to books (especially books) to old toys, all had stories to tell, and if they didn’t, he’d make up stories about them.
He’s sadly no longer here to think anything up about what I was unearthing today, but maybe you want some story prompts. So ignoring the various plastic spoons, swimming badges, hair clips and the (so far) twenty-four pens, eighteen of which actually work, these are things with stories to tell:
A forgotten Schaeffer pen given to me for some important birthday or other (presumably not my sixteenth, or I’d have used it in my O levels and not had a pen explode on my half-way through a Latin exam). And some masking fluid which would have come in handy this week while I did a sketching/watercolouring challenge.
An early personal radio complete with headphones, some unreadable floppy disks. If I ever manage to access the files will they be unreadable too?
A correction fluid pen for all those typed mistakes…
Our wedding invitation which I designed and had printed, in the days before many people had home PCs or a usable graphic design programme. We were paying for most of the wedding ourselves and were short of money and besides, didn’t think spending a lot on the wedding was as important as not being in debt afterwards, so this was one of our little economies.
Lots and lots of photographs and some photographic slides. The oldest photo in this excavation was of my grandparents in the 1930s, possibly fairly newly married and on a beach somewhere.
Two old school reports, including one that said I (aged eight) was very very serious but finally starting to settle into my second school and they’d like to see me less serious. (Shortly afterwards we moved to a new town and I moved to a third school and I don’t think I stopped being serious for the best part of another fifteen years.)
A lot of old cards, including the ones wishing me well when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. I read them through fondly but in the end, decided to let them go and let the misery and anxiety of that time go with them, and keep the love they represented deep inside, where it has been since I received them and will always be.
And then there are the things that need stories to be created for them. What would you do with these?
Two ghost doors. Yes, you read that right. Stripping out the old kitchen revealed not only the ‘ghost’ of what had been once the front door (which had been down the side of the house for reasons we’ve yet to discover), but also the ‘ghost’ of another door we hadn’t known had been there at all or why it was six inches from the other door. They’d been blocked in very shoddily. Perhaps this explains the freezing cold draught that came through my baking tin/saucepan cupboard in winter. Unless it was a ghost or two using the ghost doors of course…
Next, the treasure. This consists, sadly, of just a twenty euro-cent piece, five pfennigs and a zloty. (But why do we have a zloty? None of us have ever been to Poland.)
Finally, there were the marbles. Whenever I say I’m losing my marbles, it’s partly literal. This bag of marbles, turn up every few years when I do a major declutter and then I put them away and they disappear again. I swear they’ve never appeared in the same place twice. I don’t even know why we have them or when we got them or where we got them from. And this time, there’s even a marble that isn’t a marble.
So what’s the answer to my opening question? When is a missing marble not a marble? When it’s a mysterious squarish piece of crystal which I don’t recall buying either. Am I being visited by aliens or fairies?
Go on – as I shove these treasures back in the bureau – what could they all be?
Words and Photograph (c) 2023 Paula Harmon. Not to be used without prior permission.