Idly rambling through the interwebs this afternoon I came across a blog describing a couple's (rather testing, as it turned out) experience of selling up and moving onto a boat. A couple of sentences leapt out at me: Years and years of rubbish which we had just collected and stored. We were paying a mortgage just so we could store our crap.
Now I know I claim to have lived on a boat, but I haven't really done so properly because I have always had somewhere where I could store my crap, do my washing. But I would like to, and I think I could. I was talking to a colleague of about the same age as me last week, and we agreed that we'd both reached the stage where we were fed up with accumulating stuff and wanted instead to start getting rid of it. I fear that this is intimations of mortality, in the form of 'you can't take it with you.'
There are things that I really, really coveted, and was enormously pleased to acquire, and have loved for ten, fifteen, twenty years, and still love, but I can now face the thought of giving them up with some degree of equanimity. I find myself thinking, perhaps now they could give someone else the pleasure that they gave me when I first acquired them (law of diminishing returns comes in here).
None of this, however, applies to the boat - or at least to the concept of a boat. That I will fight tooth and nail for; the house would go first. So maybe it's a change of priorities rather than a sudden epiphany. But it is still, perhaps, the letting go of one phase of one's life in order to move on to another. Life is way too short to spend all of it doing the same thing. Part of me would love to give up the predictable and the secure and plunge headlong into a new adventure. But solid suburban lower middle class conditioning is hard to shake off, and I haven't done it yet. Sometimes I'm suprised by how adventurous I apparently seem to other people; to myself, I still feel very staid and cowardly.
Anyway, we are in the process of clearing out an ENORMOUS amount of accumulated junk in order to create some living space for Number One Son to return home in a sort of semi-detached, offspring-annexe sort of way. All the jumble sales that yielded up the treasures that I've occasionally mentioned, also yielded up vast quantities of stuff - stuff that turned out to be crap; stuff we never got round to fixing; stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time; stuff that has served its purpose. Plus the stuff that we ended up storing for other people, plus all the old stuff that I thought I was sentimentally attached to but it now turns out I wasn't... chipped blue and white china, babies' shoes, chairs, dinner services, pictures, picture frames, broken glass; a canoe; cast iron bathroom scales, bookcases, clothes, clothes, clothes; things the children made and have forgotten about but will remember the instant I put them anywhere near the dustbin; three (three!) old school desks; a gentleman's travelling wardrobe, two enormous laundry hampers; a doctor's case that smells so strongly of liniment it can't come in the house... a box full of old stirrup pumps; wooden planes, a model railway layout with rusted rails and crumbling papier mache hills, a 1930s typewriter... and that's just what I can remember. We really ought to ebay some of it, but it's too much hassle, so mostly it's going on Freecycle, or to the charity shop or tip.
And it feels good, sloughing off the past like that; getting rid of the burden that possessions can all too easily become - the burden of being responsible for them, of the mental energy required to hold onto them. Just the real treasures, the most precious, most loved, most beautiful things, remain, and at last can get the attention they deserve.
And after spending the day downsizing our accumulated possessions yesterday, we went out and bought a new car.