Space is at a premium in our house. When we married, we blended two households. Well three, actually, since I had both city and beach residences. We are lucky to rent a three-bedroom unit—most are two bedrooms, so we have the luxury of a study each.
We both had lifelong collections of books; archives of clippings from our long careers as journalists; music collections; clothes we thought might fit us again one day; memorabilia from many travels. A couple of years ago, I copied all my CDs to my computer, then took most of those CDs to the op shop. Cassettes had been thrown out by 2006.
There’s a problem, though: sometimes, I throw out the wrong thing. Many years ago, I discarded all my notes from journalism school and all my assignments from my bachelor’s degree. Now that I am a tertiary educator—something that when I was young, I would never have imagined myself—I would be interested to read them again as artifacts of a generation ago. Mind you, would I have wanted to cart them between three countries and 25 addresses? Not really. Now I’m looking at the three massive tomes in my bookcase that are copies of my PhD thesis. You have to submit quite a few, but you get the two examiners’ copies back. I don’t want them, and neither does anyone else! But it seems wrong, somehow, just to bin them. Perhaps I should use the blank backs of the pages for drawing practice.
Often, you save things for posterity because you think your children might be interested in them when they themselves have children. But if you don’t have children, there seems little point. For example, I recently went through and culled my clippings from three decades: the only person in the long-term future who will be interested in reading my old published stories is me! So I kept only the ones that interest me.
Just because you don’t still have the souvenir, doesn’t mean you don’t have the memory. I have a collection of snow domes from my travels, but I throw them out when they lose their water. I also collect books and ornaments depicting mermaids, and I bought this retro reproduction from a great vintage shop in Hawaii about 10 years ago. They are salt and pepper shakers!
Recently though, when I was cleaning the shelf they sit on, I accidentally knocked the set over and the nose of the mermaid chipped off. It’s always been a difficult set, because there is nothing to hold the mermaid and seahorse together and the mermaid doesn’t stand on its own, so you couldn’t really use them as salt and pepper shakers at a table. So they must go: they have gone. But I have this photo, so I won’t forget them.
What to do with broken stuff
I have two elephant bells that I bought in Chiang Mai in 1991, while I was living in Thailand. The bells are mounted on wooden frames so you can sit them on a shelf. About 10 years ago, one of these flimsy frames broke. I always meant to fix it, but didn’t, and now, some of the pieces of wood have been lost. I realised this week that I will NEVER fix it. Out goes the old frame. I’ve kept the bell itself, which has become a handy doorstop. Meanwhile, the other one’s frame is fine and I’ve put it back on display in my living room (it had been hiding in the hall behind a set of golf clubs).
Stuff that’s not broken
It used to be that you’d never throw out something that wasn’t broken; even if it was broken, you’d try to fix it first, or keep some bits that might be useful.
We have 15 coffee mugs and about 30 wine glasses, plus probably 20 other specialty glasses. For the two of us. I don’t think we need that many. These glasses take up an entire cupboard, two shelves, plus another small shelf. We don’t have a big kitchen.
It seems wrong to throw out glasses when they are perfectly good, but we have to do it. We plan to cull them shortly. I reckon six wine glasses is enough for a household of two. I always use the same one, anyway. And six tumblers should be ample, don’t you think?
Sheets and towels
I recently counted our towels and found that we had 13 sets—for two people. Now, colour coding aside (Mr Style-Master likes everything to match), two people do not need 26 towels, 26 face washers and 26 hand towels. There is no linen cupboard in our house, so the Style-Master had to make one and it takes up a whole corner of his study.
Two people need two towels for the bathroom, two for the wash, and two for the cupboard. We could accommodate no more than two house guests at a time, so that’s another two of each. That’s a maximum of eight towels needed, or four sets. Thirteen sets is excessive and we are getting rid of the old ones. Well, some of them.
Remember when people used to put photo albums together of their travels and special events? Mine were complete with typed captions and dates. You would have an album or two on the coffee table so guests could view your most recent trip. But people don’t do this any more. They have electronic photo frames that continuously rotate the photos. And everyone travels these days, so people are not that interested in your snapshots. Even if they don’t travel, they can view any place they like via Google. They don’t need you to show them.
I once had about 10 big albums. They were one of my favourite things. Now, as I dismantle those albums and digitise the images that matter, I look back and see excess. Yes, I travelled on the Glacier Express train across the Swiss Alps. But I don’t need 100 photos of the journey, icy peak by icy peak. Twenty would be plenty. I used to take loads of pictures in the days of analogue cameras because you couldn’t tell how good the shots were until you had the film developed. I would always be thinking in terms of taking photos for publication, as I used to be a travel writer.
I do still keep the best prints from the old days, but I no longer ever bring them out to show visitors. My visitors no doubt thank me for that.
In my view, this is a valid reason for keeping some things you no longer use, or that are even broken. My mother has a lot of things from when my brothers were young (in different decades). My first brother was killed in a road accident in 1981; my second brother is now married and lives in the US. So I can understand why she holds on to the books, soft toys, games and so on. Each one has a special memory attached.
Mum also kept a lot of my things that, as a young person, I would have thrown out. I left home at 17, not taking much with me and definitely not wanting to be loaded with childish possessions. Mum recently gave me back some birthday cards I’d treasured as a child, my old music box, some primary school assignments I did and a postcard sent to me by my late father a long time ago (which will be the subject of an upcoming post). I’m really glad now that she saved them all this time, across two countries and five house moves.