Hoarding. I met a friend today who is starting a business as a declutterer, and I’ve been mulling this over. We think of hoarding in terms of stuff. When I lived in a house many times the size of this, with bottomless pits of storage, I never threw much out. There was always the option to shove another box in the loft or cellar. So then, half blind, I climbed up there towards the end, and rummaged and sorted. And wept as I came across boxes, some unopened since the previous move, when we were happily married. Long forgotten bits and pieces; curtains and light fittings, business school notes, audio cassettes, and letters from old boyfriends tied up with ribbons. Boxes of favourite baby clothes, and acres and acres of children’s artwork. I shed the lot.
A different friend, an amateur declutterer, shall we say, was ruthless with the contents of my wardrobes, home office and kitchen. ‘Nope! Nope! Nope!’ she would exclaim, as the piles of rejects grew larger and larger. ‘Two is quite enough of those’. ‘When are you ever going to use that?’ And ‘What were you thinking?’ I noted with regret how some were things I had been ‘keeping for best’ and never used. My friend uses her favourite things for every day, and enjoys them. Much better, I know, but still somehow goes against the grain for me.
Admittedly I did have to fish our birth certificates and passports out of the bin (that was an accident, a casualty of her zeal) but for the most part I found I was happy enough to see it all go, and even wandered off to do something else, leaving her to it. I’ve missed the odd item, and resented having to pay to replace one or two (books, generally) but most of it? No, I am grateful to her for unencumbering me.
But it’s not just stuff, is it? This fear of running out. I notice it every night when I listen to The Moth. As I scroll down to the next story in the early hours, I feel without fail a kind of heart-in-my-mouth fear that I will shortly come to the end. And then what will I do? I’m nearly at the 300th now, and I don’t dare scroll to the end to see when my rations are up. So, several times a night I feel the fear of being bereft. I click on the next one anyway and comfort myself that since I have forgotten most of them, recognise virtually none by their titles, and have fallen asleep before the end of many, I will be quite happy to go round again if necessary.
Similarly, I fear losing things. Like: can I rely on this blog always being available to me? Should I make copies of my posts in case I ever want to look at them in future and WordPress has disappeared? Is this a rational fear? Do others share it? Does it matter? Why the need to CLING?
And then, of course, the obvious question: what about eating?
I know that sometimes I eat when I am not hungry. Let’s face it I usually eat when I am not hungry. Sometimes it’s because I am slightly anxious that I might be hungry later. I realise this is mad. I spend most of my time at home, a few paces from the fridge. When out and about, it’s London, not the fucking tundra. We are not (inshallah) besieged, and though my finances are in a parlous state, I am not likely to starve in modern Britain or while my mother has breath in her body.
I notice as well that I use food as some kind of treat (token of love? love substitute?) with the children. I wonder if – I think probably yes – my mother did this with us. A bandage, a smothering layer to stop maybe some other kind of need? Maybe she did this because she didn’t know what else to do and wanted to do something. Or maybe to avoid something?
She does it still. My mother is more or less infirm. My brother, as he approaches his 50th year is living with her, and so is her partner. My brother comes and goes and can be explosive. The other two bicker like the two old geezer Muppets in the theatre box. And yet she will struggle to her feet and shuffle into the kitchen to put a rather mean plate of food together for the old boy. Who complains about it largely out of habit. And so it goes.
I remember getting upset with my mother when I was at university. She’d come to visit me and gone on about my weight as usual (I was heavier than I’d have liked but in those days still within the bounds of normal). When she left me I opened the unsolicited care package she’d brought, to find it consisted mainly of chocolate. I wrote her an angry letter which I regretted the moment it fell from my fingers into the letterbox. I phoned ahead to ask her not to read it, but she did, of course, and later said she thought I was quite right. Nothing changed.
I have related hoarding to eating. It occurs to me now (though I am no scholar of Freud) that I might also look to the other end. Doesn’t he have something to say about how we all want to hang onto our poo? Oh dear, I am definitely out of my depth here. But I have been thinking about poo as well. Shall we save that for another time?
Image: A tiny, barely noticeable fraction of the thousands of children’s books we got rid of when we moved.
PS Proof if proof were needed that this retentiveness of mine is costing me money: today I cleared out my wallet and for the first time checked the small print on the various gift cards I had been saving. Expired, every one.