Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Paper and Glue 

My Mum is a compulsive hoarder.

If she has a new carpet, or fridge, or any other household item you could care to mention, the old one always ends up in the attic. Her house is top heavy with packaging from kettles ancient and modern, long forgotten sofas, broken radio cassette players she hopes might one day resurrect themselves and spring back into active service.
She thinks she's being wise - “I've thrown away so many things only to regret it later” – but all I see is slavery.
She's allowed herself to become not the owner of all this stuff, but owned by it.

There are one or two gems amid the junk though.
My favourite is a box of Christmas tree lights that my Dad would patiently nurse back to life every December. I can see him now – tumbler of Glenfiddich in one hand, voltmeter in the other – chuckling as he read the instruction he'd written years before inside the lid. It's a time capsule to himself.


He would have been one hundred this year.

I'm worried that I've inherited the hoarding gene.
I spent the weekend attempting to practise what I preach, clearing out cupboards of objects I no longer have a use for.
Every now and then Girlfriend would poke her head round the door and tell me how brave I was, what good progress I was making, but the truth is that I was operating at a snail's pace.

Among the things I threw out: an almost full box of Ilford black and white photographic paper, 10 x 8, 100 sheets; ditto Kodak colour paper; a load of perfectly good darkroom equipment – enlarger, safelight, thermometer, measuring jug, tongues and so on; wedding album accessories from a previous career that never took off.
They'd sat ignored in cupboards for several light years and the digital toys that usurped them are a million times better, but it still felt shocking to chuck it all away.
Even worse, what are you supposed to do with old pre-digital cameras? Surely they're not destined for the bin bag too?

What next? Two hundredweight of Q magazines. Unread in years and less lovable than I remembered. I've decided to mark them, then leave them lying around in train station waiting rooms, just to see if any fly back home again. It's not like there's a global shortage of reading matter.

Speaking of which, how about my wince inducingly bad teenage diaries? Excruciating to glance through now, I can't believe the passing of time will do them any favours. And yet, and yet...
Could I bin them? Should I? Does their continued existence add to the sum of human happiness? They don't add to mine. Would I miss them? Nope.

It's madness to allow yourself to be governed by the tyranny of stuff, so it's a no brainer, but on the other hand I don't want to be rash.
Surely teenage diaries - no matter how irritating - are more than just stuff, in the same way that my Dad's Christmas lights memo is more than just stuff. It's just a scrap of cardboard but it's more precious than gold.

I already know where this is going. I'll take my Mum's lead. Stick the bloody diaries in a box in an attic and one day it can be someone else's business. Job done.
The curse of the hoarding gene will outlive the lot of us.

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