Getting rid of things doesn’t come naturally. I hail from a line of well-intentioned hoarders and try as I may to toss the surpluses aside, I usually fail. Which is not funny in a family as large as ours.
The clothing bank for example. I sort the clothes into bags at home and feel the lightness of making some headway. It’s at the bank that I crumble. I pull things from the bags and wonder what the hell I was thinking at home – this cute little Gap denim shirt may not fit any of them any more, but would be gorgeous on one of their teddy bears.
One evening I stood there with my sister – who hasn’t inherited the hoarding trait – and she spoke gently, cajoling me into tossing the things I would’ve returned home with.
‘Throw it in’.
‘But what if we have another baby – I mean I know we’re not going to but what if. Then I’ll be thinking about the red cardigan here, and how the baby should be wearing it like all his brothers did and…’
‘Look, throw it in and in the unlikely event that you have another baby and it happens to be a boy, I’ll buy you another one’.
‘But it won’t be the same, theirs…’ I said placing it reluctantly in the dark ominous chute. Thinking I’ll just pop back with a coat hanger when she’s gone. Fish it out.
This went on, item by item of clothing. Each piece had acquired sudden merits and uses that I just couldn’t spot at home. Other people came and went, tossing merrily without a thought. Wondering what the hell we were up to I’m sure. But the weight was lifting in the dimming light and I was almost finished when she noticed.
‘The barrier in the car park is down. I think we’re locked in’.
Yep. So engrossed were we in fixing my hoarding gene that we didn’t notice all the other cars leaving and the car park closing. An outside car park that we could walk away from, thankfully, but the car was stuck. We were going away the following morning and the car was, well, a necessity. I phoned him, explaining tentatively that I was doing such a good job with the old de-cluttering thing when some arse-hole came along and locked the car in the car park.
‘I don’t know why I didn’t see or hear it closing. I was thinking about the boys when they were tiny, you know, smelling their clothes, clinging onto them, in another world’.
Thankfully he is a man with solutions and between the jigs and the reels he arrived at the car park and drove the car horizontally across a vertical grass bank and out between it and a bollard. Very Top Gear. Unfortunately arousing the suspicions of neighbours who came out for a gawk, fingers on dials ready to call the police for the joy-riding hooligans. All because of a bit of de-cluttering. Enough to put me off it for life.
There was an ironing board I cheerfully tried to get rid of while on holidays. The legs on it have snapped. Irreparable.
‘Put it out, it’s dangerous’, I said, delighted with myself, feeling a new muscle being exercised. Then the next morning I looked out the window as the holiday bin clearer arrived. He sorted through stuff, and then I saw it. The lovely bright ironing board. Sunflowers on a blue and white check pattern, winking at me from across the court-yard. It looked perfect. Lovely. Lonely. So I nipped out when he went off with some of the other stuff and I stole it back. Hoping that any CCTV cameras that might be lurking wouldn’t pick me up. What had I been thinking of, throwing it out? Sure it doesn’t need legs. We can just lie it flat on the floor and iron like that. For all of the two occasions that we might need to iron while on holidays. A surge of relief swept through me as I put it back in the cupboard. Saved from the dangerous world of getting rid of something. That we might really need. Someday.
But there’s that feeling that accompanies the drawing close of September. A rare organizational feeling. It comes but once a year. Not in spring-time when it occurs to most normal people. No, spring cleaning passes me by completely. Mine coincides with the kids going back to school. Some sort of latent guilt about sending them off to toil. If they are to suffer then so must I. The feeling only lasts for a few days. Until they are settled back in. Then I forget all about it. This is our only chance. I enlist the help of a kind, yet ruthless, East European lady – recommended by my sister – for an hour. She quizzes me, waving a piece of art one of the kids has done, and before I have a chance to say yay or nay she has binned it.
‘It is broken’ she says, referring to the snowman’s carrot nose which was peeling off.
‘Yes, yes, broken’ I say, thinking how I know I’ll rummage, after she’s gone, in the recycling bin and retrieve it.
‘I know’ she says ‘they want to keep everything, but it is no good’.
‘No good at all’ I say staring at her, wondering if I might ever be like her. A ruthlessly efficient detached thrower outer. Nah. But I can copy her. Act as if, for today.
She fills a black sac from the one room, even though I’ve tided laboriously for her coming. How does she do that?
She moves onto the laundry area. We are the lucky recipients of many a bag of great second hand clothes for the boys from various kind sources. We are overflowing, swimming in these seas of kindness. The drawers are stuffed. We’ve nowhere to put it all. If only I was more successful at the clothing bank chute… She points and she quizzes me and I shrug and eventually she bags everything out of sight. Which is a relief, although I’m not sure what the next step is supposed to be.
‘I will come again in two weeks. All the clothes will be gone. Then if it is ok I will do the cupboards. Throw out everything expired’.
‘Yes, yes, fine’ I say, wondering if I am correct in my understanding that she has left me homework to do. All the clothes will be gone. How, to where? I daren’t say out loud.
‘I really want to help you’ she says which is simultaneously relieving and irritating. Surely she could keep such saviour thoughts to herself.
‘I have only one child. I do not know what it must be like with five’.
Chaos, clearly, my dear new friend. Chaos in a good way. I swear.