I have just found a cutlery set I didn’t know I had. It must have been a wedding present a long time ago. And there’s a garden trowel at the back of the airing cupboard. This doesn’t mean there’s a poltergeist in the house. It means I’m sorting stuff out, sifting – which is what I have to do before shifting. Living, I’ve decided, can be defined as gathering stuff. And, when you’ve lived in the same town for more than 30 years, that’s a lot of stuff. The cutlery set was under the bed, underneath a pile of old magazines. I just hope we sent a thank you note before stowing it away there, never to be used.
I’m dreading moving my sifting operations from the airing cupboard and the bedrooms into the kitchen. What jars of aged mayonnaise or fish stock or ancient cheeses will I find at the back of the fridge? Will there be old unopened pots of pesto, jars of jam and many sachets and packets of exotic teas such as kawakawa or lemongrass? How many little packets of herbs, their contents as dry and bland as barn chaff, will be stuck at the back of a drawer, gaping open like unfledged nestlings? And why don’t I close them after use?
I’m thinking about packages a lot because my whole life is now in boxes. Packing up the house you’ve lived in for most of your life forces you to select parts of your past and reject others. It’s a time for reflection. No one else can pack for you. Discovering my original Sgt Pepper’s album and all the original Velvet Underground LPs, with the cover blurb of one album saying, “Introducing a new band from England, the Rolling Stones”, still with the price sticker on it from Pellucidar in Berkeley, California, where we bought it – that was good. Discarding a box of my son’s preschool art was harder to do but it will soon be replaced with grandson art.
[Later] I finished sifting the cupboards in the bedroom. Maybe, I thought, as I wrenched the squealing shiny tape over yet another large carton, I’ll protect the flavours of these carefully selected mementoes of the past. I leant on the lid and pressed down extra tightly to seal. I reached for another flat box, opened it, ready for filling.
What does the future hold?
Living, you have decided, can be defined as gathering stuff. I think you should have added, and discarding stuff. The world is divided into gatherers and discarders – I call them hoarders and chuckers. Hoarders and chuckers shouldn’t marry each other; it makes for marital discord. “You know that blue jersey, the one with the green patches? I can’t find it.” “Oh,” I say, “it must be in the wash.” I know perfectly well that the jersey is not in the wash. It’s in Muffin’s kennel. Tattered jerseys make a good winter mattress for an old sheepdog. I cannot see the point in keeping things beyond their use-by date. Hoarders don’t recognise use-by dates. Hoarders put old things in cupboards, just in case they come in handy.
Being a chucker, I won’t have much to sift when we shift. And when we shift, it will be to a container. No, not us, just our stuff. We will rent a furnished house until we have built on our new down-country farm. I’m looking forward to my time without the encumbrance of stuff. I have a wonderful aunt who arrived to stay with us, a refugee from the February earthquake. She carried everything she possessed in one small suitcase. When I commiserated with her over the loss of her possessions (which, she was told, were irretrievably lost), she said, “No, my dear, don’t feel sorry. They’re only things. I’m alive, my friends are alive and that is what is important. And besides, I feel liberated. Too many things are an awful responsibility.”
Aunt decided, after two weeks, that it was time to move on. Early one morning I put her and her one suitcase on the bus bound for Nelson where she rented a motel room, bought an easel, paints and brushes and set up an art studio in the bathroom. She has since been reunited with some of her things. She was, of course, delighted but she did say that she would never be as free as she was when she carried everything she owned in one small suitcase and painted pictures in a motel bathroom.
So, Janice, simplify your life. Have a good chuck as you sift your stuff.
Story: Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey