It’s early Friday evening, and I’m breathless, walking quickly through the darkness to the post office with a stack of autographed books ready to send to their new owners.
Another average day spent at my desk, a couple of client Zooms and leaving the mail run to the very last minute AGAIN. I swear the post office staff have a sweep on the minute I’ll fly through the door pulling on my mask with hair sticking out in all directions.
There it was;
Front and centre in the window of the local hospice shop.
I stop. Time rewinds…
The post office is forgotten.
Suddenly, I’m a child again, looking at the same coffee set my parents bought on their honeymoon in 1963. The set only came out on special occasions and any accidental damage was tantamount to disaster.
For a fragment of a second my Dad, Grandparents and other long deceased family members materialised around me. I could hear their voices over the clatter of saucers and the chink of the coffee pot lid. The aroma of used grounds and matte texture of the glaze was as real as it had been when a cup slipped from my ten-year old hand into the sink ready to wash up. I think the original set came from Poole Pottery in Dorset…
It was pure mid-century style.
And I thought it was ugly. In fact I really did not like that set.
Its flowing lines and brownness were as much a part of the 1970s as swirly carpets and itchy hessian.
But it triggered happy memories on an icy, winter evening. I heard my Dad laughing and the soft tone of my beloved grandmother.
Will I go back and buy it after lockdown?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! It has no place in my life now or in my future.
As I snapped out of the impromptu time machine created there on the high street, I thought about all those clients I work with who struggle to part with possessions they’ve absorbed from the homes of parents and grandparents.
They haven’t learned to detach stuff from love. They don’t get that immersive experience that detachment brings.
In kitchens where space is at a premium, chipped china, pyrex bowls, quirky cruets and random ornaments fester unused purely because of whom they previously belonged to. When the family moves they are packed up and transferred to the next kitchen. Often the box sits unopened in a cupboard until someone asks why.
Ten years, twenty years, how long does something need to gather dust and block valuable kitchen real-estate before someone accepts they don’t use, need or love it?
People pay thousands of pounds for streamlined new kitchens and pack their cupboards and soft-close drawers with stuff they wouldn’t give a second glance in a charity store.
Meanwhile worktops are cluttered with gadgets while food and drink is stacked elsewhere because there isn’t enough storage in the kitchen!
Where is the logic? How much of your rent or mortgage is paid out to keep stuff you don’t use?
In 25 years of Interiors Therapy, I’ve only seen one kitchen where every item was utilized on a regular basis. That client could have found anything she wanted with her eyes closed.
In every other kitchen, valuable space was wasted on unused (and often disliked) items because they belonged to someone else, kept from a sense of obligation or because it ‘might come in handy’ one day.
After working through their Interiors Therapy, householders find they have more than enough cupboard space for everything they need and wonder why they never thought about what they were holding on to.
So where is the balance? If glancing through a window can bring my family back to life, I’d suggest a photo can go a long way, and if necessary, print it out and put it in a box of ‘special things’ so it’s there when you need connection with your past.
If you fear that’s not enough, and for reassurance you HAVE to be able to touch it, choose one or two items, but don’t keep everything for the sake of it.
I have various methods to help my clients see their stuff from a different perspective, and once they get the hang of it, more often than not they don’t stop with the parental clutter — It’s liberating and transformational for homes and attitudes.
The people you love wouldn’t want to be trapped in an unopened cupboard. They aren’t in the teapot or the cow-shaped milk jug. They are in your heart, and always will be.
‘Welcome Home, How Stuff Makes or Breaks your Relationship’ (Panoma Press)