A postcard drops through the letterbox as I’m hoovering around the massive dog crate that the younger dog no longer uses but where the older one seeks refuge when she needs a bit of peace.
The card is from “The Idler” magazine reminding me of my recent subscription so I put it on a pile of books there is no room for on the shelf which are stacked on top of the rarely played piano.
In the complicated area of “things I buy that I don’t really need juxtaposed with things I never needed but still hang onto,” books and magazines are granted a free pass. That is to say, I allow myself unlimited reading material, guilt-free.
The wider collection and retention issue came to head this past week when I found myself buying an iPad for reasons that are still beyond me.
It arrived the next day and regardless of the ease with which I could read years-old articles from “The New Yorker,” and watch TV on it in bed whilst still hypocritically congratulating myself for not having an actual TV in the bedroom, its presence felt like a final straw in the growing discomfort with unnecessary clutter.
Like an addict downing a litre of vodka a day whilst rejecting the idea of alcoholism by claiming they don’t begin drinking until the afternoon, I justify my behaviour in flimsy ways.
“I’m going to transfer all those photo slides into digital so I don’t have to keep them,” I said when purchasing a scanner which, now that the job is complete, sits gathering dust next to the thousands of slides I seem unable to part with.
“How many guitars have you actually got?” a member of my family might ask from time to time.
“Oh, about ten I think.”
I can see at least six from where I’m sitting writing this and seek refuge in the guitarists’ answer to the question, “How many guitars do you need?”
“One more than you’ve already got.”
My mother’s inability to clear things out was on a different level from my increasingly worrying behaviour, although we’re still both well short of Channel 4 documentary territory (unless you try and get into my cellar).
In what felt like a parental intervention from beyond the grave this week my daughter showed me a bottle of vanilla essence that she’d found in the kitchen cupboard that went out of date in 1995, before I was married or had children.
That would have come from my mother’s house and now it sits in my kitchen like an omen.
Where my mother’s path and mine have diverged though is in our willingness to engage with the world.
As she grew older she became busier and increasingly involved in all manner of social activities. As I have aged I have become more hermitic to the point where it feels as if my social muscle may have atrophied beyond repair.
My mum probably accumulated so much stuff because she was too busy to throw any of it out. I spend so much time wandering about the house that my things feel more like a barricade.
The received wisdom therapeutically regarding someone who accumulates more than they need is that they are filling an internal emotional hole with trinkets that give an illusion of satisfaction but in a way so transient as to be perpetually unsatisfying.
My own problem is slightly different in that I need to create a bigger life outside of my house than being content with the one I have within it because even when I do get myself under control and realise it’s time to let go of the “egg poacher” I inherited from my mother that has always infuriated me because it actually steams the eggs rather than poaches them, I need to find somewhere to take it, and that means going out, and I’ve largely forgotten how to go out.
During the lockdowns, I fell happily into the group of people relieved to be released from the expectation to go anywhere. So much so that when I did finally have to go into town to the opticians, I almost got run over having apparently forgotten how to cross the road safely.
My therapy practice went from being 90% in-person to 90% online and perhaps that’s become a little too comfortable, and maybe I was affected more than I realise by those months of social isolation.
By Sunday evening I had arranged to return the iPad.
Re-packaging and preparing it for collection was a catharsis and, momentarily at least, I imagined spending some of the money I’d saved on edging back out into an inhabited world I appear to have largely turned my back on.
“We’re going out on Tuesday evening,” I say to the dog lying sleeping in the crate and who definitely has more friends than I do, “But don’t worry, we’ll be back home by 10.”