Impending Disaster

Help me.

My house is shrinking.

I’m not kidding. The walls are actually closing in. Like in that scene from Star Wars where our heroes are stuck in a galactic rubbish compactor.

It’s just like that. Only, we’re in London. And there’s no director to yell ‘cut’.

That can’t be good.

I suspect this has been happening, gradually, for years. The house getting slowly smaller, inch by inch, foot by foot. If I’m honest, the signs have been around for awhile, I just didn’t recognise them for what they were.

Or understand the seriousness of the situation.

You do, after all, learn tricks to compensate. How to pile kitchen utensils up on shelves that used to be empty, or at least empty enough to put the mixer down so that it was actually touching a shelf. And to walk around the boxes, where once you could walk in straight lines. Boxes which have apparently sprouted spontaneously from the floor, all over the place, because no one remembers them arriving, or being put down in such inconvenient spots, or even what’s in them.

book tower

You figure out how to arrange the books so that they lean into the corner, thus enabling the pile by your bed to get large enough to kill the dog, if the dog should be unlucky enough to be walking nearby, around something on the floor, when the inevitable avalanche sets off.

And, you find inventive uses for things, things that otherwise would just be clutter. Suitcases, for example, can be stuffed with clothes a size or two too small, but which will fit again once the diet works, and the fashion returns. Unfortunately, they are then so wide that there’s nowhere to put them, other than next to the boxes. On the floor.

Of course.

Tracy Ermin has helped. If her unmade bed can be art, then the two bicycles which are in the front room because there’s no space for them in the shed can be…I’m not sure yet, but I’m certain it will come to me sooner or later. As will the reason why I keep a giant inflated ball, last seen chasing The Prisoner, next to them. At all times.

Houston, as they say, we have a problem.

And, while I may not know what to do about this situation, I do know how it happened.

A million years ago, my future husband and I both had our own places. Our own fully furnished, and decorated places. With pots and pans.

After some time, we merged his two bedroom flat, with my two bedroom flat, and got…a two bedroom flat. One now complete with his grandad’s souvenirs of a lifetime spent in China with my Papua New Guinean tribal masks. And to his things, and my things, we began to add our things.

As one does.

Eventually, the children started arriving, with their accoutrements, and so we moved to a house.

And spread out.

And Out.

And OUT.

From time to time, I realised that something had to be done and so I would gather together some possessions, usually somebody else’s possessions, and take them off to the charity shop, or the local tip, or to the child next door. And the extra space felt great.

For a while.

But, it never lasted. Nature abhors a vacuum. And so, apparently, do I. The floor, once again, began to shrink. The walls inched in.

I did the only thing possible. I bought a book about how to get organised. Ok, I bought three books. They are all now, ironically, near the bottom of the pile and can no longer be accessed. But I remember the gist of what they said:

If you haven’t used it in a year, throw it out.

If it doesn’t fit, throw it out.

If you don’t know it to be either useful or beautiful, throw it out.

Which, you have to admit, all makes sense. But, it doesn’t take into account what happens when both children move back home – temporarily – bringing with them most of the things they had in their last flats, and will need in the next ones.

Or, when you sell the company and move the entire contents of a very large office back into your house. In preparation, for moving it back out to another office. Eventually.

Or, when everything you look at is a memory. Ok, maybe not the two monitors on the floor to one side of me, or the collection of old pillows that I’m gearing up to dispose of on the other, but almost everything else in this room is. The broken carriage clock that sat on my mother’s mantle for as long as I can remember. The miniatures of George Washington and Marie Antoinette that hung in her entry hall. I know, very odd, but she thought Marie was Martha and I never had the heart to tell her it wasn’t so. The totally-surplus-to-requirements desk that an elderly friend asked us to take care of when she downsized and which now, years later, always reminds me of her. The family of ducks, or swans, or some other type of bird, that my boy bought for me from a jumble sale. With his very own money. The macramé plant holder that may just look wonky to the rest of the world but which I can still vividly remember making, half a lifetime ago and half a world away.

I could go on.

In fact, I have been going on, for a long time, which is why I am now in the position where I can’t walk from my chair to the window without plotting a course more elaborate than the one Napoleon had for marching into Russia.

I can not be the only person in this position. So, how come the books don’t tell you what to do with the really important things:

Stuff that will be useful in the future.

Stuff that reminds you of the past.

Perhaps it would have helped if we hadn’t converted the loft into a bedroom. Or the garage into a spare sitting room. That last one could have been a mistake.

A big mistake.

Because we have now reached critical mass. The house is about to implode.

The neighbours won’t be happy.

Neither will I, come to that.

Which brings me back to my first sentence…HELP ME.

…but not too soon. I’ve just heard that it’s London Open Day and that the iconic Battersea Power Station is on the list of usually-closed places that are throwing open their doors, for one day only. I’ve always wondered what it looks like in there.

I just hope that souvenirs are NOT available.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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14 Responses to Impending Disaster

  1. How I can relate! My solution to the memories is to take a photo and then write the memory down. I wrote a piece called The Cabinet for an anthology of women’s writing. It was about my great aunt’s cabinet that had served me as a kitchen cupboard, stereo and album cupboard, wine cabinet and document holder. Eventually it fell apart in my hands (damp…) and I had to face the fact that it was never going to be repaired. But the essay helps me remember, and readers always comment on it. So: photos & writing. That’s the way (for me).

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Oh Gabi, that is sheer genius! You don’t really want to throw out things which trigger memories, do you? Because, they are memories that can only be triggered by those things. And, you don’t want to lose the memories. But, a worn out belt that reminds me of the day my mother gave it to me, is still a worn out belt. Taking up space that we have run out of. Whereas, a picture of a worn out belt…total genius.

  2. PS: For the books: Goodreads. That’s where I keep my record of what I’ve read before it goes to people who need the books…

  3. Adam Lovick says:

    My mother, who made theatre costumes, kept a large roll of lace ribbon for over twenty years because it might have become useful. It lived with her in four houses over the time and she finally bit the bullet. On the Monday she decided to throw it away. On the Tuesday she resolved. On the Wednesday she hesitated. On the Thursday the bins were emptied, with it. On the Friday one of her assistant dressmakers said “Alison, I need some lace ribbon that looks like . . .”

    Space is like time, there is always less and less of it. It’s called a continuum, I think.

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This disposing of things is a risky business. I once put everything I was going to get rid of in bags, several large bags, and stashed them under all the beds and into any closet than wasn’t already groaning, all over the house. I then waited six months to see if anyone noticed they were gone, or needed them or missed them. No, no one did any of those things. And so, on the day circled in my calendar, I took them down to the tip, and happily tossed them away. And then, the very next day…you can see what’s coming next, can’t you…nobody missed anything! Of course, none of the stuff in any of the bags was mine, but that’s another story.

      • Martin says:

        Felt the same way about getting rid of Kaden’s clothes (my son) from when he was little. Mom came down to help and we ended up with 10 large bags full and gave them to the neighbors who had little kids. Made space and now I get to see them in action again on the new little guys in the neighborhood as they charge around. Now if I could just do something about stepping on legos in bare feet…

      • Eileen Riley says:

        That’s a really nice way of dealing with it. And, the obvious solution to the problem of stepping on lego in bare feet is to buy them little shoes…

      • Crep, Martin says:

        Yes, I’ll do that right after I write a reminder note to not drink Pepsi when reading your replies. It really burns coming out your nose for some reason. KCCO

        Martin Crep RT(R)
        South Region Radiology Supervisor | RSOD
        Park Nicollet Radiology
        952.993.1064 |

      • Eileen Riley says:

        Pepsi isn’t good for you. I bet your mother has mentioned that from time to time…

      • Crep, Martin says:

        Yes, yes she has. Are you Instant Messaging her right now or is this some shared link all Moms have?

        Eileen Riley commented: “Pepsi isn’t good for you. I bet your mother has mentioned that from time to time…”

  4. Eileen Riley says:

    They teach you that in Motherhood 101.

  5. Brad says:

    Definitely would never have fit into that Teepee in the northwoods… =) There’s always offsite storage. That’ll unclutter your house and your wallet at the same time. Two birds with one stone. Think I’ll duck now.

  6. Eileen Riley says:

    Wonder how much it would cost to store a few dozen left-hand gloves. And a few million orphaned socks.

  7. Serena Perkins says:

    My OCD is going into overdrive, very happy to come and help “clear” the stuff and think the pictures of memories is a genius idea. Johnny did a carboot sale at wimbledon stadium, maybe you could help create memories for someone else!

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