On Sunday, we finally let ourselves back in. Six months and three weeks after we locked the door behind us and set off round the world, we came home. The flat was full of echoes, of the strange feeling that other people had existed in our space for all that time. You could see it in the extra wear on the kitchen worktop, the limescale lines around the base of the taps.

All those months ago…

It felt strange, at first. Not that there was much time to take it all in. First, we had the mammoth task of taking everything we owned out of the loft and redistributing it. Over the months, all the boxes and bags had acquired a thin layer of grime which quickly adhered to the pristine floors. So much for coming back to a clean house. Not only that, but the debris of our travels seemed minuscule compared to the endless stream of things that just kept coming out of the small hole in the ceiling of the bathroom.

Why on earth did we have so much stuff? The first things that came down weren’t even useful. A ravioli tin (which I have never used), a rucksack filled with clothes I’d probably worn once or twice, endless mugs, a bamboo steamer (also never used). For some reason we had two knife blocks and two stick blenders. On and on it went, each box producing things to be stowed, as our apartment that had felt spacious at first, started to feel choked.

No space for extras!

I’ve moved around a fair bit in my time. Even in the six years I’ve been in London, four different addresses have served as home. It occurred to me that there were certain boxes and items that had just been moved from one place to the next, without being used or opened. My guitar. A collection of hats. Innumerable books that I’ve already read, but can’t bear to part with.

In light of our travels, the contrast was stark. All three of us had got by, fairly comfortably, with just two suitcases and a rucksack. Six months of living in hugely varied climates and we’d been just fine with these meagre possessions. As we pulled more and more things out, it got harder to justify the reasons for hoarding these things without use.

From snow to sunshine, we had everything we needed

Before we left, we thought we’d had a strict clear out. Seeing as everything had to be hauled up a ladder, its place needed to be justified. Bags of clothes, boxes of books, things that had become surplus to requirements, all of it found a new home in a charity shop. I even took on the daunting task of clearing the drawer of my desk and the file of paperwork, so eager were we to de-clutter.

Perhaps our perspective on what is important has changed. Something about carrying everything we needed for all that time must have rubbed off. The hallway is now filled with another three boxes and two bags, all to be carted away. My wardrobe has conspicuous open spaces. The drawers slide open and closed, easily. The ‘stuff’ cupboard above the washing machine doesn’t threaten to spill its contents every time you open the door.

All zen after the clear out

Of course, there are advantages. Taking things out of storage was like re-discovering just how precious they were to me. It feels as though I’ve instantly gained a brand-new wardrobe, without any of the shopping hassle. It’s made me vow to actually wear the clothes, the shoes, the hats, the jewellery that was given to me as presents which usually sit in boxes, untouched. I want to rediscover them, remember why I kept them in the first place. Oh, and start playing the guitar again, obviously.

Last week, someone asked if my travels had changed me. The assumption that a big journey brings around a new perspective isn’t new, but I admit I was stumped.

Rediscovering things can be good!

It seems I have discovered the first. From now on, things will need much more significance or use if they are to earn a place in my home.

2 Replies to “Stuff”

  1. Ah how we love to hang on to our ‘stuff’. It was quite sad to see your lovely apartment being filled with boxes & bags as Jo – getting increasingly dusty and dishevelled as he went up and down the ladder into the attic – brought down more and more stuff. I hope you’ve managed to get a bit more sorted by now, & got it mostly put away into cupboards and drawers.
    A wake up call for me, as I have only just started on my mission to clear out and downsize – aargh!

    Some ‘stuff’ is hard to put a value on though, and is so difficult to discard. A photo, a book, a gift from someone special can immediately take us back to a special time, occasion or person, that we might not otherwise remember or call to mind. When clearing cupboards in my bedroom recently, I came across a jewellery box that Emma made for me when she was about 10 I think. I have a much fancier jewellery box now, but still can’t bring myself to get rid of that one.
    Likewise all the Mothering Sunday cards you all made me over the years – when I look at them it transports me back to that time and the pleasure and pride in your faces as you gave them to me along with the ‘special’ breakfasts you brought to me on a tray.
    Sometimes, hanging on to ‘stuff’ is actually pretty important I reckon, as it can remind us of what really matters.
    But I still need to clear out a lot of ‘stuff’.
    It’s not going to be easy!


  2. I always look forward to going through this process every year. Despite not being a person who likes things, I’m always finding I have an accumulation of “stuff” for which I have no use.


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