Peeling Back the Layers

As habitual readers of this blog will know, I spent the best part of February decluttering and purging my home. The Grand Purge, I called it. Boxfuls of stuff left the house, destined for charity shop, recycling station or (alas) dump.


Then, with a sigh of relief, I got back to my main work: writing. (For those of you with an interest in things writerly, I’ve been focusing my rewriting work on my weak point: character, using Jeff Gerke’s Plot Versus Character). The job, so I thought, was pretty well done.

Then we went away for Easter weekend, and when I came back, I seemed to see with new eyes.

The house was still full. Cluttered, even. I’ve never thought of myself as being over the top when it comes to possessions, at least on a Western scale – our kitchen bench isn’t piled high with appliances we don’t use; the bathroom isn’t stuffed with half-used lotions and potions, and our sporting equipment consists, in toto, of one petanque set, a frisbee and a boomerang.

But it still seemed like too much. Much too much, in places. I realized, with sinking heart, that I had only removed the outer layer.

Red onions (cross-sections)I found myself looking at the shelves and wondering what would make the cut if, instead of keeping everything that I didn’t dislike, I only kept the things I specifically wanted. Only the favourites. Immediately reasons not to leapt to mind: that one was a gift; this other one is part of a set; those ones there you might just not be in the mood for at this moment…

I had thought that I found getting rid of things easy, but it turns out that that was simply because I had far more than I actually even wanted, let alone needed. (Horrifying thought.)

I want to live a simple life, and the cost of that is getting rid of things. Even things which I quite like, in a way; things I’d be happy to keep having, but am not, in point of fact, attached to. Perhaps they are attached to me, though, because they’re quite hard to shake.
It is work getting rid of things. Not just the physical work of moving things from point A (your house) to point B (anywhere that isn’t your house), but the psychological effort of disrupting the usual, uprooting the habitual, and leaving only the intentional behind.

It’s frightening, in a way, and it shouldn’t be. Who am I without all these familiar things? The same person I am with them, surely, only with less stress and more space. Less stuff looming over my shoulder…

Portrait by Jonathan Worth 1, credit Jonathan Worth, link to http://jonathanworth.comBut since my work would undoubtedly suffer if I took another four weeks off to focus on de-stuffing, another method must be found. This time, I am thinking of working backwards: starting with the desired result, and doing what is necessary to reach that point.

Of course, this is slightly complicated by (still) not knowing what size house we’re going to wind up in, and therefore how much stuff will need to be removed in order to create the desired degree of spacious unclutteredness. And since I tend to be a big-picture vague-on-details person, I need to come up with some concrete specifications of what part of the work I’m going to do when, or it will only happen in fitful frustrated starts and stops – ultimately patchy and unsatisfactory.

But there we are. As Pasternak so rightly observed, “Living life is not like crossing a meadow.”


3 Replies to “Peeling Back the Layers”

  1. Moving house provides a great opportunity to de-clutter. In fact, it’s almost worth moving house for that alone – I somehow develop a ruthless approach that’s not there at other times.

    1. Desperation is a powerful motivator 🙂 I moved a lot as a child and it took me a while to realize that there are things (decluttering, spring cleaning) that you have to do even if you’re not moving!

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