As I’m moving out of my flat in six weeks or so, I’ve begun the process of clutter-clearing. I went to the corner shop, bought a roll of bin-bags and set to work, ruthlessly ridding myself of rubbish.
The secret is to have rules.
Clothes – If you haven’t worn it for twelve months, sling it. If you don’t think you’ll wear it in the next twelve months, sling it.
Books – Waterstones share prices go up when I’m within half a mile of a branch, so this is a tough one for me. If you don’t think you’ll read or refer to it again, leave it in a public place for someone to find. It’s a romantic idea, and a tautology – whoever picks the book up is the person the book is intended for.
Official Bits of Paper – Ask yourself, ‘Could losing this result in a court appearance, a beaureacratic nightmare or heart palpitations?’. If the answer to all three is ‘no’, shred it.
Old Unused Electronic Goods – Chucking out an old CD player that still works causes me to hallucinate my grandmother tutting at me in disapproval. Ignore the tutting – this is the 21st century and we’re the disposable generation.
Old Photographs – Chuck them, digitise them or put them in an album. Set them aside for this task, and if you haven’t completed it within 7 days, you obviously don’t care that much so bin them.
CDs – I’m divided on this one. I’m not sentimental about CDs, and I only ever listen to music via iTunes anyway. They are next to worthless in terms of resale value, but merely disposing of them seems obscene. Luckily they are easy to stack in an archive box to be inconvenienced by later.
Hand-written Letters – Don’t ever chuck these. Hand-written, personal letters have only been dead for a decade, and they already seem like ancient history. Imagine how quaint they’ll seem in another couple of decades when we all have Instant Messenger software installed directly into our brains.
I found a huge stack of letters from friends and family, some of which were from people no longer alive. It’s true that time heals, in that every memory and experience becomes less vivid as each day passes, but unexpectedly seeing a dead friend or relative’s handwriting, addressed to you, is like getting an electric shock. In an instant, I was so filled with grief that I felt as if someone was standing on my chest. I went from happy to melancholy with a flash of despair in between.
Our home-making, our insecurity in relationships and jobs, our concerns about money and health are all in response to our horror at the impermanence of things. Everything is always changing. Even if you get things exactly as you want them, such as having a fulfilling job, a loving relationship, entertaining friends, a comfortable home – after a while, your brain will create imaginary problems for you to fret about until the inevitable day comes that you have all-too real ones to deal with.
Kurt Vonnegut provides what I think is the best strategy for dealing with the sad fact that living is a problem because everything dies in his book Timequake, which as I may have mentioned a few times, you should read.
“My uncle Alex Vonnegut taught me something very important. He said that when things were going really well, we should be sure to notice it. He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories: maybe drinking lemonade on a hot afternoon in the shade, or smelling the aroma of a nearby bakery, or hearing someone all alone playing a piano really well in the house next door.”