Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Hoarding

"And, judgemental as this may be, I don't entirely trust people who exist without stuff"*.

I've been saying it as a flourish, the obvious point being that I am most definitely a stuff person. I come from a family of stuff people. My house may not quite be at the get-a-documentary-crew-in-here-to-question-why-you-have-seventeen-unused-coffee-makers-and-haven't-seen-your-floor-since-1997 stage but I can see the path which might lead there and that path is strewn with play programmes and Shakespeare mugs and more shoes than will actually fit in my wardrobe.

A few weeks ago I had to clear someone else's stuff. It was one of those default things where there was no one else to do it and it needed to be done and for all I am capable of running around shrieking and waving my hands in PANIC I like to think I can be calm and practical when the situation calls for it. But it was odd. Not only for how I would hate someone to do the same with my much-loved stuff (though that, I guess, is the inevitable fate for all hoarders) but because of how little inconsequential life-stuff this person had. Which is why when I read Franca's In Defence of Stuff blog post I immediately felt the heart skip of recognition.

I don't think I indulge in minimalist fantasies, though I do indulge in organisational fantasies where I would have enough room for everything to either be stored or displayed correctly and, maybe most of all, where I would immediately put things back where they were supposed to live. Obviously these things would require me to i)not live in rented accommodation in London and ii)get a new personality. So, for now at least, this is destined to stay a fantasy.

(Fascinator from Dean and Director Boy's wedding, St Anne's College Scarf 2001, vintage suitcase from charity shop in Richmond, lace glove from Victorian murder mystery 2010, vintage headscarf from Deptford Market, picnic basket that belonged to my parents, shoes from my 25th birthday)

Rationally I know I can't keep everything and that one day, either out of lack of space or sheer desperation, I will have to collect the boxes of Sindy dolls and my little ponies that I refuse to let my parents dispose of (not to mention the fact that three quarters of my book collection still lives in Leeds) and that even I probably don't need to hold on to all those notes from lectures about The Battle of Maldon and Paradise Lost. I did a quick count before writing this and have discovered that my dress tally currently stands at 49 (and I suspect there may be more in the wash basket). FORTY NINE DRESSES before I even got on to the skirts. Given I hold on to my dresses more than anything else I suspect I'm going to hit critical mass some point next year and my wardrobe will cease to function any more and I will have to replace my bed with storage instead
(Tea set from charity shop in Leeds first bought for the Brideshead Revisited Picnic, glasses bought from a charity shop and gifted to me on Henman Hill at Wimbledon in 2009, dress pearls that belonged to my grandmother, white flower from the set of that production of A Midsummer Night's Dream back in summer 2006)

But - all this stuff makes me happy. Some times because it reminds me of things or people or adventures. Some times because it simply makes me happy to wear a nice dress or look at the spines of my books or drink coffee in the mug I got from Newstead. Of course the memories and the feelings would exist without the stuff, but that moment of happiness when your eyes alight on something and you remember or just feel happy in its presence? That wouldn't exist.
(Photo of David Tennant's Hamlet from Stratford, postcard from the V&A's Art Deco Exhibition, Monet from Blackwells in Oxford, Klimt from Blackwells in Oxford, Postcards from: Oxford 2005, Rome 2002, the French Alps 1997, Cambridge 2009, Vienna 2004, Budapest 2004) 

I am me because of all of the stuff (and I should point out that much of my stuff is worth relatively little in monetary value) and I think that part of my reason for feeling (finally) feeling settled in London is because I can, for the first time in many, many months, have my things out and not packed away. I put the pictures above (and there are more of them) up a few weeks ago - the first time they've been out of their packing since May 2009 and immediately it felt a little bit right.
(Puffin Postcards: birthday present from Dean, Everything is Illuminated: present from Breakfast Club Boy, More Trees To Climb: Bought at Latitude 2009 and signed by author, Lady Chatterley's Lover: 1960's Penguin from charity shop, To The Lighthouse: 1932 edition from bookshop in Balham, The Waves: my first copy bought in 2001, The Death of Bunny Monroe: present from me to Breakfast Club Boy [I probably should return it, oops], Sylvia Plath Eye Rhymes: Bought at South Bank Centre and signed by author, The Lives of Lee Miller: birthday present from Dean, Klimt: present from History Boy and then more coffee table books given to me by Dean and Director Boy)

I'm sure there are lots of ways to analyse my desire to hold on to inanimate objects as a form of comfort as well as my desire to continue acquiring. Equally, though I proclaim not to trust them, I know lots of people don't feel the same or would recoil in horror at the chaos of it all. But for me stuff is about stories. It's the background narrative to my life. And stories matter to me more than almost anything. When I was clearing that room, and there were quite simply no stories, just the every day business of life, I felt profoundly sad. For what are we if we don't have stories?

*For the record: I don't trust people who don't own books either.

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