Saturday, April 11, 2015

clearing out (again...)

I'm having another of life's clear-outs. Slowly but surely I'm plodding my way through the remaining boxes in the shed at Pukepoto, bringing them in to town, going through them and absorbing what remains into my current space in the world. I'm determined not to add any boxes to the garage here, not that there's really any space to do so anyway as it is full of J&O's stuff!

Also over most of the last year I've been having a mental/emotional clear-out of stuff that is unhelpful through counselling. So it was somewhat bemusing to come across something I wrote about fifteen years ago about much the same thing, and how useful it had been. So in order to be able to clear another bit of physical clutter out of my life, here is what I wrote so the pages can hit the recycling pile...

[For those of you out there who were regular readers of YQ at the time and are thinking 'I don't remember reading this before' don't worry, it isn't old age taking it's toll. You most likely haven't. Just because I said I'd write something, which I finally did, doesn't mean I'd also actually get around to sending it in, which I suspect never quite happened!!]

Some time ago (er... May '87 to be honest - Kendal YFCC!) I promised then YQ Editor Jonathan Kemp that I'd write 'something' for YQ, 'after my exams'. Thankfully I don't remember specifying which exams, but having sat the last ones in '92 I feel as though I'm still somewhat overdue in writing!

So what has prompted me after all these years to finally get around to it?

Guilt. Plain and simple.

Over the last six months I've ended up having to do a lot of looking back over my life. Trying to figure out why I am where I am today, who I am, and what on earth am I doing with my life. You know, all the nice easy ones.

Part of the process has been counselling after it finally sank in that my head can only take so much without a good clear out. The amount of stuff that had just been pushed to the back of my mind 'for now' had built up to the point where if anything even vaguely difficult or challenging occurred I couldn't cope. Not a good situation to be in when you work with people with challenging behaviour.

So off I went, somewhat reluctantly at first, to counselling. Deciding to go was a big step in itself. If I had a pound for every time in my life someone had said to me "You're coping so well", "You always seem to manage, how do you do it?" etc etc I could retire tomorrow. When the world thinks you are coping it is very difficult to turn around and say well actually I'm not, can you help? Especially if they've just said that they couldn't do it themselves!

I'm getting there, but it's not always easy to bring out painful memories and look at them again. At least there's some more space in my head again though and I don't throw a wobbly every time someone else does!

Another part of the process has been physically having a clear out. As anyone who's ever visited me knows I've got rather a lot of 'stuff'. Due mainly to being put in a 'take it or it goes' situation when my parents moved house some years ago. So whilst most of you have children's books, teddies, jigsaws and toys safely stowed away in attics and spare bedrooms elsewhere, mind were under my bed, on top of my wardrobe, and fighting for shelf space along with my university notes. Like the ever promised article, I never quite got around to sorting through it all.

Then suddenly, a couple of years ago, I had to shift all my stuff several times in as many weeks, up and down far too many stairs. My life had changed, my future was unclear, but one thing was certain, some of the stuff had to go. Slowly but surely over the next four months I started to whittle it down. Another house move, still too much stuff - keep going! A year on and like all good resolutions I'd slowed down to a virtual stop, but then came the promise of a new home - somewhere stable, permanent, but small.

Bin bags were filled, boxes cleared, endless carrier bags dumped exhaustedly at the Shelter Shop. The big move came - would it all fit in? Well sort of, ish. So more had to go but but was getting harder. All the easy to part with stuff had gone. Then one day hiding from the rain in a bookshop I found my saviour 'Clear your clutter with Feng Shui' by Karen Kingston. You wouldn't believe what I've managed to do since reading it.

Clearing out clutter is in itself very theraputic - as long as you manage to throw things away and not put them back 'for now...'. In so many ways we are defined by our possessions and the things we surround ourselves with. I had an incredible amount of stuff which I'd felt I 'ought' to keep rather than wanted to. The old 'it might come in handy one day' kind of thing mixed up with 'but so-and-so gave me that'. Are my memories of people and my past so fragile that I need to keep everything? It's quite a question to ask yourself.

I compromised and started a scrapbook, it's got old tickets from concerts and the cinema, some train tickets, old NUS cards, railcards and so on so I can cringe at old photos of me, mementos from events and people. It's been good fun doing it. It satisfies a childlike instinct to play with scissors, glue and sellotape too! If I can't remember something when I find it in my sorting out it goes.

Yet with my dread of amnesia quashed with the scrapbook and so much more parted with, I still haven't finished. But there are now just a few hats on top of the wardrobe instead of a precarious pile to the ceiling, there's space in the cupboards and no longer a pile of boxes lurking in every corner of the flat.

So where has all this got me? My head is being cleared out, the flat is being tidied up, but there's still a pile of stuff that remains to be dealt with, the 'pending' tray in life. That's where this article came in. No matter how hard I 'd tried to forget that I'd ever said I'd write anything the memory kept coming back to haunt me. There are a few other things in the tray too, and I'm trying to get it emptied by the end of the year, clear it out and not let it get so full again.

Maybe someone will read this and realize that they can sort things out too. I hope so. It always seemed like such an enormous task, too big to tackle, But if you break it down into little bits, like writing an article for YQ, it can stop being so daunting, and you might even find you enjoy it!

Post script, fifteen years later...

I laugh now at the thought of that flat being small. Sure it was for the amount of gubbins we crammed in to it, but having lived with far less stuff for many years now, and spent rather a lot of time reading articles about Tiny Houses, I have a somewhat different perspective these days.

I was in that flat for four and half years before life got turned on its head yet again. Not that I'm complaining as it was the beginning of the journey that led me to a life in Aotearoa NZ, but I think had you told me what was coming back then I'd've baulked at the thought of it. Well that is once I'd picked myself up off the floor and gotten over a stitch from laughing for long enough to ask 'Are you serious?'

So no, life hasn't exactly been plain sailing since then, and it is amazing how much extra internal clutter one can acquire in fifteen years, even if you've got better at keeping the physical stuff under control. But over all I still believe what I wrote then, I just wish I'd reminded myself sooner...

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