The next chapter – relocation and the art of moving house

I promised in my last post that I would let you know why I have been writing fewer blog posts recently.  Well, for the last few weeks I’ve been tackling practical jobs and to-do lists, while trying to get ahead with deadlines for commissioned articles in order to create a few weeks’ breathing space for myself.  The thing is, I’m moving house next week.  Not just moving house, but relocating to the other side of the country.

When I left Somerset some years ago to move in with my partner, I didn’t imagine I’d be going back any time soon – but life (and my partner) had other ideas, and earlier this year the decision was made that we would relocate.  We’ve always been great at timing – for example, we booked the Registry Office and only weeks later realised that we’d picked a Bank Holiday weekend, thereby condemning ourselves to a future of trying to book anniversary dinners and weekends away at peak holiday time.  In this instance, no sooner had we decided to start a long-distance house hunt than lockdown was announced.  However, despite all the obstacles and frustrations, and with a lot of help along the way from Robert at Robert Bruce Relocation, four months on we have found our new home and are preparing to move.

For a number of excellent reasons, I have moved house quite a few times since the turn of the millennium.  This is what I have learned about moving house:

  1. If you can avoid moving, do so. It’s expensive, stressful and time-consuming.  You need to be very convinced that the benefits of your new location are worth the upheaval.
  2. If you can’t avoid moving, it’s great if you can keep the move local.  Long distance moves are exponentially more stressful and fraught with complications.
  3. Ensure that you have the following items in your possession (not on the lorry):
    • toilet roll
    • emergency chocolate
    • a kettle and/or whatever you need to make and drink hot drinks of your choice, including at least one teaspoon
    • cleaning materials (your new home will never, ever, be as clean as you’d want it to be when you get there)
    • keys to your new home AND to your old home (you’ll need to lock it up after you!)
    • the keys to your car (sound obvious? Maybe, but a friend of ours managed to leave their car keys in the drawer of a dresser which was loaded onto the removal lorry…)
    • if you are as paranoid as we are, all important personal documents, your passport and driving licence
    • phone chargers
    • hand soap and a hand towel (to go in the bathroom when you arrive, together with the toilet roll)
    • a toolbox (there will always be something which needs tools in the first 48 hours, while your stuff is still in boxes)
    • a doormat (saves a lot of floor cleaning)
    • at least one bin bag
    • a meter key (you’ll need to take meter readings at both ends for the benefit of the utility companies)
    • hand luggage (a couple of changes of clothing, your daily toiletries, and a bath towel) to tide you over until you can start unpacking
    • Paracetamol
    • a mobile phone, for guiding the driver of the lorry when they get lost, photographing the meter readings, and using as a torch to find the stopcock in the back of the cupboard under the sink.
  1. Find out (ideally before you get there) where your nearest hardware shop or DIY store is. You will need at least 5 things in the first 48 hours.
  2. Find out where your nearest takeaway is. You’ll need it for several days.  Make sure you know where your plates and cutlery are (or add a picnic set to the list in point 3 above).  Eating egg fried rice out of the carton with your fingers is not recommended.  Trust me on this.
  3. You will need to leave your fridge and freezer to stand for a while to settle after their journey. Just make sure you remember to switch them on at some point BEFORE you do your first large food shop.
  4. Write your new address down somewhere or store it on your phone. You will go blank when asked for it.  For several weeks, possibly longer.
  5. There will always be at least one Really Important Contact whom you forget to notify of your change of address. Just make sure it’s not your bank.
  6. The spare light bulbs from your old home will never fit the light fittings in your new home.
  7. It is a universal law that the more you spend on curtains, the less likely they are to fit in your next home.

Despite all that, I am excited as well as apprehensive, and very much looking forward to being back in Somerset.  It’s the place where – notwithstanding a mixed heritage and a nomadic childhood which left me feeling rootless – I have felt most settled and at home.  Thanks in no small part to the decluttering process which I have written about in a previous blog post, this move isn’t as daunting as some have been.  Wish me luck – I’ll see you on the other side!

Photograph of colourful mural of Glastonbury Tor.

(Can you guess from the photograph where we are moving to?)

 

Too Much Stuff – a decade of decluttering

I recently read back through all my old blog posts (on this and other blogs) and was rather embarrassed to find a theme, going back almost a decade.  From 2011 I have, at regular intervals, been writing about decluttering.  Not decluttering in the abstract, but my own attempts at achieving a simpler life with less Stuff.

Since then, I have moved house no fewer than five times, and am about to move again.  Each time, I have spent days, weeks, months, sorting through Stuff.  I have benefited my local charity shops to the tune of many hundreds of pounds worth of donations.  I have made a lot of people happy with my cast-offs.  I have spent much more than was necessary on house moves, because of the amount of Stuff which needed to be packed and moved each time.

I have read a lot of blogs and books on decluttering (I even have a friend who is a professional declutterer, and if I’d met her earlier in the process I might well have engaged her services!).  I have internalised Marie Kondo’s principles (I even rolled my socks up for a while).  I have read books on Stuff, agonised about Stuff, packed up boxes of Stuff, and driven countless carloads of Stuff to charity shops and recycling centres.

What have I learned?

I had a shocking amount of Stuff.  No, really, I did.  It’s obscene.  After nearly a decade of active decluttering, I still have a home that is far from sparsely furnished and which contains plenty of books, art, clothes, kitchen and tableware, and sentimental items.  I think I’m just about there, though, finally.  This is probably an acceptable amount of Stuff for a woman of 50 in the UK to own.  I’m just acutely embarrassed about how much Stuff I had.

I am ashamed of how much money I spent on Stuff.  There have been many things I have not done in my adult life because I felt I couldn’t afford it.  But the purchase price of the Stuff I have decluttered would have paid for all of those ambitions, with plenty to spare.  I appear to have chosen Stuff above Life.

I have a powerful emotional attachment to Stuff.  This takes two forms:  firstly, I feel responsible for it – I can’t just dump it, it’s my responsibility to make sure that it is rehomed/recycled/sold on to someone who will use it.  It’s partly an environmental thing, and partly something I haven’t quite got to the bottom of yet, which is around a kind of anthropomorphism of Stuff, whereby each item is something I have called into being and now it’s my duty to do right by it.  Odd, isn’t it?!

Secondly, I have discovered that I feel really uneasy about not having much stuff.  Reading books on minimalism makes me feel acutely uncomfortable.  How can having only a few clothes, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor, be something to aspire to?  It just evokes images of refugees, and living in squats, and I can’t imagine how somewhere so Spartan could ever feel homely.  A lot of thinking, and long conversations with my long-suffering partner (who has never in her life had Too Much Stuff, and is rather bewildered about the concept – why would you want to have more Stuff than you actually need?!) has made me realise that the Stuff is, for me and for many other people, tied up with a lot of complex emotions.

A lot of my Stuff relates to creative projects, which get mixed up with issues around identity.  If I decide to do or make something, I first get “every book ever written on the subject” (I quote my partner!), and every bit of kit/materials/tools I might conceivably need.  When (as is often the case) life moves on and I don’t get round to completing the project (or, all too often, even starting it), the Stuff is a silent reproach.  It’s not just about the wasted money, but it’s about mourning for the project that never happened – and for not being, after all, the kind of person who would have done that project.  If I get rid of my wool and my loom, I am also getting rid of my identity as an aspiring textile artist.  Stuff and identity become intertwined.

The unhappier I am, the more I crave being surrounded by my Stuff.  It needs to be my own stuff – not just clutter, but things that I have chosen to have in my home.  Even if there are far too many of them for the space available.  Somehow, it makes me feel safe.  This has made decluttering even more difficult, as it’s usually initiated by stressful events (moving house) which are precisely when I’m likely to be more emotionally dependent on my ‘shell’ of Stuff.

Whilst the last few years of my life could hardly be described as peaceful, they have nevertheless been years of growing happiness and contentment.  And I have recently discovered that I have reached a tipping point.  The burden of having all this Stuff – paying to have it moved, paying to store it, keeping it clean and in good repair, and generally having it take up brainspace as well as physical space – has finally outweighed the emotional benefit of having my Stuff around me.   I no longer need my ‘shell’.  No, I’m still not going to sleep on a mattress on the floor if I can help it, but I’m finally able to follow William Morris’ dictum: “Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.

So, where does that leave me now?

We are preparing to move house (again).  This time, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, the only things I’ll be moving are things that are either useful or beautiful (or, in a few cases, family Stuff of which I am currently the custodian).  No “but I might still do that project” Stuff, no “but it might come in useful” Stuff, no “but it took me ages to track that book down ten years ago” Stuff, no “but that was really expensive, I can’t get rid of it” Stuff.  Less Stuff, more space.  Less Stuff, more experiences.  Less Stuff, more life.

The new old home

So – the move is done.  I have been in for a few days, the unpacking is almost completed, and I am (after many years of living in 1960s and 70s houses) reminding myself of the joys of living in a 150+ year old house, with not a straight line in it!  Almost every piece of furniture upstairs has had to be sured up with wedges to make it even vaguely level.  My miscellaneous vintage home wares and country furniture actually look like they belong here, rather than being an anachronism. The cat has moved in and seems to approve of her new abode.

What have I learned, as the detritus of my life has emerged out of boxes?

I have too many shoes.  No, really, I do.  Because I have never seen them all out at the same time in the same place, I never realised just how many pairs of very similar shoes I have.  I haven’t depressed myself further by counting them – I just know I have too many.  I understand why – I have difficult feet to find shoes for which are both stylish and comfortable, and therefore I tend to stockpile when I do find suitable ones, even if I don’t actually need shoes at the time.  But this is ridiculous.  I would have ample for most eventualities even if I gave half of them away.  Which is what I shall do.  The hospice shop at the top of my street is in for a surprise!  I have already sent half my handbag collection their way…

I have too much stuff relating to projects which I shall never finish.  Freecycle is helpful here – gifting my stash of fabric which I know I shall never make clothes from, and the things which were in job lots which I purchased for one or two pieces which I have used.  More challenging will be the process, which I must undertake, of getting rid of a proportion of of my yarn and fibre stash – realistically, much of it is in colours I now know I am unlikely to use.  I can make a couple of nice bundles and donate them to my local Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers for someone else to enjoy.

For the moment, I must set aside training as a traditional upholsterer. In this much smaller house, I do not have the room for the supplies, beyond my toolbox, or for pieces of furniture waiting to be worked on, and in a mid-terrace house it’s not realistic to do the amount of hammering involved, without seriously annoying the neighbours.  If I can find a workspace away from home, I can re-visit this, but for the moment I must leave it, and not beat myself up about it.

I have too many books.  I must admit this is a surprise – as I had already culled several boxes of books (to Oxfam) over the past few weeks, I didn’t expect this to be an area that would cause me problems.  But I have realised that as well as the books on the shelves, I had nearly as many again lurking in piles beside my favourite armchair, under the desk, under that pile of magazines that I never seem to get round to finishing, on the windowsill…I need to assess whether it is realistic that I will read them in 2015.  If not, it’s Oxfam again…

It really is possible to declutter, even things that have been around for years through umpteen housemoves, without feeling bad.  I have always had guilt about getting rid of things which were, long ago, gifts or which have some association with someone or some event.  I’ve been able to ask myself, as things emerge from the boxes, whether I am keeping something just through habit, or whether I am making an active decision to have it in my home.  Things (of no great value, but nice, and often recollected from my childhood) which I have inherited from my beloved grandparents, I have kept – a vase, a rug, the child size chair which they brought back for me from a holiday in Spain in 1973 and which now provides a suitable home for my very grown-up bear.  I have allowed myself, also, one small storage box of ‘nostalgia’ items.  Interestingly, it’s only half full.  The one area where I will have to put in some time is my office – I seem to have reams of paper and piles of files kept in case it ‘comes in useful’.  Going through several years’ worth of work output will be tedious, but should free up several shelves as I think it’s likely that very little of it will be relevant in the future (and most of that is probably on computer/backed up anyway).

Moving to a much smaller house has been a great discipline.  There simply is no argument with not having anywhere to put it!  The world really won’t come to an end because I only have a few tupperware food storage boxes rather than twenty.  If I can’t store it, I probably don’t need it.

I stockpile things as if I am expecting a siege.  The reasons for this, I know, go back to my childhood, but I must accept that in 21st century England it is unlikely that I need to stockpile groceries, ironmongery or toiletries.  At all costs I must avoid multibuys.  Any possible financial saving must be set against the costs in terms of my tranquility at home as I struggle to find houseroom for things I won’t need or use for ages.  What price turning my home into a warehouse for things I can buy any time I need them, just by walking up to the shops?  Is a few pence of saving really worth the aggravation of the item falling out every time I open the kitchen cupboard?!

Fitted kitchen cupboards hide a multitude of sins. Or, in this case, stuff.  My kitchen here has few cupboards – four small wall units, one base unit plus a corner unit with a carousel for pans.  But it does have three open shelves running the length of the kitchen, which I have used to display/store my crockery (including vintage tea things) and vintage enamel bowls and jugs.  I now know exactly what I have got.  Duplications have become apparent, and have been weeded out.  I can see that I have enough – plenty – and will not be tempted to acquire more.  The cupboards contain only consumables, and some cookware.  I only have what fits comfortably in the cupboards (less than half of what I had before).  So far I have managed to cook a range of meals without feeling the lack of any vital piece of kit.  My surfaces are largely clear, and the kitchen feels very tranquil.

At the end of the first week in my new home/olde worlde cottage, I am keen to pare down my possessions even more.  I want to have even more space around me, to reduce the visual noise of my stuff.  I realise that I only really tolerate the ornamental in my home if it also fulfills a function – my ceramics are bowls or tea cups, regularly used and not merely gratuitously ornamental.  Even the cat is a vermin-control operative!

All change – new year, new home, new start – the opportunities for simplicity

Regular visitors to this blog may have noticed the absence of new posts recently.  This reflects a time of upheaval in my life, both professionally and personally.

The cat and I have found a delightful character cottage in a small town in Somerset, near to the M5 and mainline railway, and at the heart of a thriving community with shops and services.  I wanted to find somewhere that would be a real home (rather than just somewhere to live) as I embark on this new life, so I was delighted to find somewhere which was not a soul-less new-build on an anonymous estate.

The cottage comes with a nearby garden, complete with potting shed, and there are already two big vegetable beds and scope to grow-my-own on a significant scale.  There is a wood-burning stove to supplement the gas central heating.  And a lock-up garage/wood store across the road.  I appear to be all set up for The Good Life…

I moved from a large house, and so I haven’t needed to get much in the way of furniture.  However, living in big houses for the last several years has inevitably resulted in Too Much Stuff, and this has been a wonderful opportunity to galvanise me into action – the biggest decluttering exercise of my life is underway!  Ebay, Gumtree, charity shops and the dump have all been involved in my campaign to reduce my Stuff by at least 30%, and preferably 50%.  Fortunately, the timing coincided with the Christmas and New Year break, which has given me time and space to do at least a couple of hours’ decluttering every day, and make significant inroads into my Stuff.

I have before me, therefore, a challenge and an opportunity.  I may not have actively chosen this whole ‘life begins at 45’ experience, but I am determined to embrace what it offers me, and the first thing it offers is choices.  What do I want in my new home?  How do I want to live my daily life?  I am being offered the chance to live much more simply, which (as readers of this blog will know) is something which has been exercising me for some time.  This is my chance to make a fresh start in the way I live.  I have often said that I aspire to William Morris’ maxim to ‘have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’, and now I have the opportunity to put it into practice.

The white goods do need to be bought new because I really need them to be under warranty.  The other bits and pieces I am consciously buying mostly vintage or second-hand.  I acquired a handsome day-bed on Gumtree, and a leather armchair on eBay.  My bedroom curtains are being re-purposed from a pair of 1950s Welsh wool blankets.  I am now the proud owner of a very beautiful Deco chest of drawers, which I expect will outlive me.  And I am being very disciplined about how much furniture, and how much Stuff, will fit into a small cottage and still allow me enough space and order to actually live in it.  And work in it – the second bedroom (with stunning views!) will be my studio and office.

So – over the next few months, I hope this blog will chronicle my first steps in my new life, and I hope you will accompany me as I make choices, face challenges, and work out how to live simply in my new home.