While I have been preparing to move house the terrible circumstances of Grenfell Tower have been unfolding relentlessly on the news. The first fatality to be named was Mohammed Alhajali who was a Syrian refugee studying engineering. He was only 23 and had been in the UK for 2 years. How tragic that he had escaped from Syria only to die in the horrendous fire.
It is a sobering thought that while some people have very little I have too much. When I last moved house I promised myself I would not accumulate a lot of clutter. Now, several years later, my promise in pieces, I am preparing to move house again. Stuffocation. I've spent several months decluttering in a desultory sort of way until the last couple of weeks when the pressure has been on. I've sold a few items, I've given things to friends, donated to charity shops, posted books into book banks and clothes into clothes banks. I've separated paper, plastic, tins, glass, and I've made several trips to the council recycling centre (which, annoyingly, is only open every other day). A social housing organisation and the wonderful Free for All in Wigton have taken some furniture. Alas, some things are quite simply rubbish, refuse, rammel. Worn out, eaten by mice or moths, broken beyond repair or outdated technology (cassette tapes, anyone?).
Where does it all come from? Well, some of it was given to me by people who were moving house ... (at the time it seemed rude to refuse). There is also the strong "it might come in useful" gene which I inherited from my parents who lived through the Second World War and rationing. The make-do-and-mend culture which became trendy in the recent recession was a grim reality for their generation (it's sobering to remember that rationing went on for some years after the war, thanks to Sir Stafford Cripps). Added to that my parents ran a smallholding and, as all farmers know, that odd bit of metal or wood might come in handy one day. Now whenever an object of the might-come-in-useful-one-day variety turns up I know it is time to dispose of it.
It is, as someone pointed out to me a few days ago, a fundamental law of decluttering that some of the things that you get rid of will be needed. But what things? I spent several hours in charity shops buying back books after my son asked "Where are all the James Herriot books? My girlfriend wants to read them." And why did Mrs Gaskell's novels get the old heave-ho? "How could you get rid of Mrs Gaskell?" asked a friend. I don't know either and I soon regretted not being able to track down the heroine's blue dress in - was it Mary Barton or North and South?
As moving day looms I think of the opening lines of Jacob Polley's poem "Moving House" (from The Brink):
"Bubble-wrap the chimney like a vase,
its bouquet of wilted smoke
ripped out, and pack the slates
the way you'd box a brittle set of books."
He goes on to talk of flat-packing each room, leading the bath out by its plug chain, squeezing the air out of the stairs. The poem is required reading for anyone moving house.