I don’t regard myself as an acquisitive person – I tend to buy things as I need them, rather because of any compulsion to have the latest, or ‘be seen to be having’ something. Being a Yorkshireman, I see these options as roads to penury, and in any case, when did you ever see a happy compulsive purchaser? The more you go up the scale, and feel you have to have – for example – the latest model of German SUV, it’s a very slippery slope, as there’s always someone close by who will trump you. Yes, I know that one member of my family has a German SUV, but I know he will have this in another 5 years. Really.
That said, we live in a large old three storey house with big rooms, and a double garage to boot – and there’s an awful lot that can be stashed inside without ever feeling cramped. It’s only when we spend a week away in someone else’s holiday cottage that we realise how little is actually needed to live a perfectly happy life. Barring taking the family photographs, art and Sue’s medal collection, and of course my guitars, ukuleles and favourite vinyl records and books, we have all that we need with us. So what is filling all corners of every part of the house, and why is it there – and most importantly why don’t/can’t we get rid?
Decluttering has been on Mrs Barnes’s resolution list for more years than I care to remember, with the implied connotation that this applies equally to me. So, not bringing Mrs Barnes into this as she has her own challenges on this front, I’ve made a start – this is what an excessively rainy May can do.
I’ve started at the top of the house, but the first difficulty I find there is that as we don’t use these rooms that often – apart from for ironing, a home for my guitars and ukes, and Sue’s exercise bike (a turbo, it’s called) – and they’ve defaulted into a storage area for elder son and family whilst they are in Malaysia, and also for younger daughter’s things whilst she is between houses. Actually, she is no longer between houses but persuading her to take all that’s hers is somewhat fraught with difficulty. I must insist!!
So, I can’t effect any significant change to the top floor’s asset register, but I come down a flight to the bedrooms/office hoping for better luck. The main bedroom is ripe for filling black bags, after all, how many clothes do I need? Yes, I fill a bag with clothes/shoes that are well past their good-looks date – and decide that they are probably good enough to go to ‘charity’. I’ve sent a lot of good stuff to charity over the years, but I never see anyone riding an old bike or wearing one of my unworn pairs of jeans, bought optimistically, and which I couldn’t be bothered to take back. I guess that they’re all out there somewhere, in someone else’s wardrobe.
I swiftly come to the conclusion that I must need 20 pairs of socks, 12 pairs of trousers and 16 shirts, and equally convince myself that certain socks suit certain shoes/boots due to colour or thickness. Yes, I seem to have a lot of shoes and boots as well. And as for two and three-piece suits, I have to confess that they aren’t worn often but I need lighter ones for weddings and darker ones for funerals – if ever I am invited to either, which is fortunately not often.
As for the chest of drawers and the bottom of the wardrobe, apart from additional but necessary daily clothing, they have sheaves of papers such as lyrics which don’t have music, and music without lyrics. I shall have to join these two piles up at some point. Also my Punch magazine collection, and the shelved progress of a marketing effort to persuade the great and good to contribute to a series of cassettes (that tells you how old it is) by reading a humorous story. I sent one to Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street, and had a reply on his behalf from one Andrew Marre (before he dropped the final e) when he was PPS to the PM, before sliding conveniently into a media career at the BBC. Blair said ‘No’. But it’s all personal stuff that I’m not inclined to ditch at this point (even though it won’t mean a fig to those who do the sorting after my demise).
So, degrees of success in the main bedroom (and the overflow wardrobes in two other rooms – ouch!).
The smallest bedroom is also the ‘office’. My filing system is there – the important documents which people will be needed by those who follow on. I have done a reasonably good job keeping these up-to-date and tidy over the years, yet I still find utilities bills from 2015 (as just one example) sitting in the folders. Why? Of course they should have been ditched, but it’s an ongoing process.
At least I have a clear conscience in the bathroom, as there’s only so much shampoo and shaving foam I can use at any one time – with the shampoo having an almost uncanny ability to last indefinitely. Did you know that they don’t sell Aussie shampoo down under? They don’t even have a reciprocal one called Pom. I searched high and low in large chemists in Adelaide, so am reasonably sure that I’m right.
The rest of the middle floor, apart from a guest bedroom complete with groaning wardrobes, is filled with Sue’s stuff, and it’s not my place to comment on the quantity or value of all that.
Downstairs my vinyl album and CD collections are housed in one room. Neither pile is vast, and I feel I could go without the CDs if push came to shove, but the vinyl has to stay. It’s not that I play them that often, but they’re a part of me over the best part of 60 years (and some are quite rare, such as the original Tyrannosaurus Rex album on the EMI label – before the duo became T Rex – with its iconic words on the reverse from DJ John Peel, reproduced here. Pure 1968…).
Tyrannosaurus Rex rose out of the sad and scattered leaves of an older summer. During the hard, grey winter they were tended and strengthened by those who love them. They blossomed with the coming of Spring, children rejoiced and the Earth sang with them. It will be a long and ecstatic summer. – John Peel
My DVD collection is small but iconic, with some great music and fine French films. Yes, I’m sure that they’re on YouTube, but you don’t get the extras and behind-the-scenes stuff there. I have a book collection which fills a couple of shelves – the entire printed works of David Gemmell and Garrison Keillor taking pride of place, alongside the 20 hardback volumes of the best of Punch 1900-1930, which was such a rich source for my Songs and Stories of the Great War production at Sage Gateshead in November 2018.
Moving outside to the garage, the space is filled with cars, bikes, garden furniture, ladders, bins, bike racks, and shelves full of man stuff, like tools and equipment, J cloths, dirty flower pots, old emulsion paint cans – all of which are extremely valuable to me, and stand little chance of being removed. Yes, I know that I forgot to mark which rooms the various tints of white paint were used in, but that’s hardly the point…..
I’ve probably gone about as far as I’m comfortable with in terms of shedding stuff, and filling the Council Tip and/or charity shops, but I have made a start, and I keep reviewing my efforts and thinking about doing some more. I still admire the holiday cottages though, but minimalism only goes so far.
And I haven’t mentioned the loft, but there’s only so much of this you can take. Just use your imagination 😳