Sorting Things Out by Angela Caldin
We’re hoping to move house soon. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But behind that straightforward
statement lurks a disturbing state of emotional as well as physical upheaval. I’ve heard it said that
moving house ranks with death and divorce as one of the most stressful events in life, and while I
think that there must be many worse things than moving, such as serious illness or loss of a job, I can
bear witness to the fact that the whole procedure is causing me much angst and turmoil.
We haven’t exchanged contracts yet so we’re still in that state of agonised suspension where
anything might happen to derail the whole procedure and send us unceremoniously back to square
one. However, we are not only moving, we are downsizing, so we must use the time to sift through
30 years of accumulated possessions in order to decide which ones will make the journey to the
promised land of our new two-bedroom flat.
It seemed a good idea to start with the books because there were thousands of them, accumulated
over the years throughout the assorted careers of three children as well as after the deaths of
various family members whose collections we had inherited, not to mention books to which we
ourselves had taken a fancy. Many of these books we had never even opened, but we’d nonetheless
found it comforting to keep them against the day when we’d suddenly feel impelled to read them.
Now the crunch had come and after four journeys to the local Oxfam bookshop with car loads of
dusty books with yellowing pages, we have finally managed to corral the remainder into one room;
but there are still far too many and it’s clear that another cull will be necessary.
The next target was the numerous files of papers relating to a lifetime of different jobs, financial
matters, children’s school books and reports as well as the loving and lovely letters that we all wrote
to each other once upon a time. I found my very first pay slip from my first proper job as a civil
servant which showed that I was paid £83 for the month of September 1970. In another drawer, I
came across a certificate presented to my youngest daughter when she came a stunning second in
the egg and spoon race at her primary school and which I had proudly put in a golden frame. The
problem is that looking at these relics of the past propels the person sorting them into a nostalgic
emotional journey. One flimsy piece of paper can evoke a whole era of one’s life so that all sorts of
unbidden memories and feelings come flooding in.
Finding a Good Home
Then it was on to the vinyl records, cassette tapes and CDs. Nobody has any use for audio and video
tapes these days, so we were off on yet another journey to the local tip with them. We did better
with our LPs and CDs though: we took them to a shop called The Music Exchange in Notting Hill Gate
and came out £59 the richer. I’m particularly pleased about the final destination of my much loved
Dansette record player which was a trusted companion throughout the 1960s and 70s – you could
balance up to eight records on its mechanism and they would drop down one by one to play the
Beatles and the Four Seasons and other cherished classics. I discovered that there’s a factory in
Rochdale which specialises in repairing and restoring these vintage Dansette record players and,
with the help of a friend who lives nearby, I’ve been able to donate mine to them for spare parts.
Despite all these valiant clearance activities, of which the above is but a small sample, the house
looks exactly the same. That’s because we haven’t started on the furniture yet, preferring to wait
until there is the certainty of exchange of contracts before calling in the auction room and the local
furniture project. We have lots of empty cupboards and drawers, but this hasn’t made any
difference to the general outward appearance of the rooms. Meanwhile we, the occupants of those
rooms, are emotionally wrung out and exhausted from endless journeys down memory lane and
worn out from countless trips to the local tip and the charity shop.
There must, I feel certain, be a lesson for future generations in here somewhere: first and foremost,
don’t, whatever you do, be a hoarder; you don’t need all this stuff; unload as you go along and live
gloriously uncluttered in the present.