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.
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.
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.
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)