When we bought our house in 1996 it was practically empty. Heaven knows what had been in here, or where it had all gone, but I can’t blame any of the chaos in the attic on the previous owners.
At that time the attic wasn’t an attic, but a hayloft, full of very old hay. If we looked up from downstairs, we could look through the gaps in the broad old oak planks which were the ceiling and see wisps of hay poking through. At some stage my lovely husband decided we should have flooring put in up there, so that he could build shelves and we would have a huge storage area for all the games and tents and hundreds of ancient copies of Good Housekeeping (USA and UK) and boxes full of bunting and Royal Family memorabilia. The first challenge was disposing of all that hay, but once that was managed everything else fell into place nicely, and we never threw anything away again.
I wasn’t brought up to be tidy. I was always amazed when other families had games and puzzles which were complete, with no pieces missing. Lego packed away nicely in its original box! My mother used to call me ‘Miss Messy’, after the Mr Messy story by Roger Hargreaves, but having been responsible for clearing her house when she moved into a care home, I can tell you that that was a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
I seem to have spent the last 30 years in a hurry; a spit and polish sort of life, where everything got done but nothing was done thoroughly. Corona measures this summer enforced idleness on me and, in desperation, I started sorting drawers, cupboards and chests downstairs. To my shock and horror, I enjoyed it. I found I enjoyed sorting and structuring and actually, afterwards, knowing what was where. I was thrilled to find some of the lovely things we have which I had completely forgotten about.
That upstairs was so chaotic began to bother me, so two weeks ago I decided to channel my inner Marie Kondo and sort it all out.
It was really hard work. I was running up and down stairs, lifting boxes, pushing and pulling heavy containers, dragging heavy rubbish sacks, carrying stacks of books from one place to another. After two days I had what Germans call ‘Muskelkater’, which means when your muscles hurt and are stiff from exercise. Some things were easily discarded. I didn’t have to think long about binning the Michael Jackson rubber mask/wig set. The chocolate fondue, unused since being a Christmas present in 2008, marshmallows still in place although the packaging itself had been gnawed by mice is, as we speak, still here – minus marshmallows.
As I have done for the last 35 years, I told my students what was going on in my life and showed them the picture of our messy attic (header). They were shocked, but encouraging and gave me tips. A few days in I sent a preliminary photo to one of them, ‘Oh well done Carys’, she replied ‘I can see part of the floor!’
It wasn’t just the physical tiredness. When my ex-husband sold the house we had lived in as a family, he asked us if he could bring boxes of stuff here. We had room upstairs, after all. I had never even looked in those boxes but last week I did and found all those Fisher-Price baby toys bought when living in the USA, pottery animals made in Primary School, the shiny blue plesiosaurus which was everybody’s favourite bath toy.
I wasn’t just clearing out the attic, I was clearing out my mind too. Another dear student messaged me ‘It’s not just hard physical work – it’s hard work for you psychologically, too…’ and she was right.
This song was going through my mind the whole time, as I sorted and thought.
Unfortunately I didn’t locate my Steve McQueen poster.