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Sunday, April 07, 2013

The profound joy of getting rid of stuff

We've been in this house twenty-five years this summer. Most of that time has been devoted to raising a family. We didn't pay much attention to the rising tide of stuff we were surrounding ourselves with.

After a while even books, records, DVDs and magazines cease to be the things you work for. You get to a point where it's either you or the stuff. By that time you've had the melancholy experience of clearing the homes of your own parents, who didn't accumulate a fraction of the junk you've got yourself. You kid yourself you're going to pass on your records to your kids. Then they grow up and you realise that even if they were bothered there's no way their lives could also find room for the detritus of yours.

What do you get rid of and what do you keep? The reasons you once collected things no longer hold good. Spotify and iTunes have made a nonsense of all those compilations you hung on to because of one track. IMDB makes those fat film and TV reference books look ridiculous. Those launch issues of classic magazines you squirrelled away are never going to make you rich but they will attract dust and mildew. You no longer believe that if you pass up this CD you will never be able to replace it.

In the past few months I've taken what seems like tons of books down to the charity shop. I'm such a good supplier they've given me a Gift Aid card.

Chucking stuff away is a learning experience. You realise nobody is remotely bothered about the thousand-pound computer you take down the tip. They just point you to the pile in the corner. On the other hand they don't know what to make of the old tea chests because they've never seen one before and you wonder whether you should take them home and hang on to them. You visit the second-hand book store so often that you start to develop an attraction for old paperbacks and find yourself picking up the odd one as you drop off the odd box of fifty.

The process of sifting is slowed down by the occasional piece of paper that flutters out of an old book. A child's hand-drawn birthday card, a note of apology for some long-forgotten breakage, a rejection letter from a job you don't remember applying for, all put away nowhere in particular because somebody thought it would be a shame to lose them. Maybe this was the occasion that you were saving them for. Is anyone really going to pause in the middle of cleaning up to look at them again? Anything that's not been disturbed in the last twenty-five years is, for obvious reasons, unlikely to be disturbed in the next quarter of a century.

Your reward for having got rid of all this stuff is the liberation of the space you need to be able to enjoy the stuff. The records you can suddenly put your hand on, the newly-cleared window seat which you can use as a place to read, the profound calm that steals over you when your desk is finally cleared. This is every bit as spiritual as the impulse that led you to acquire the stuff in the first place.