Saturday 20 June 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

The list of jobs read:
1-    Dismantle football table and take it to the dump
2-    Tidy up shed
3-    Bring stuff down from/put stuff up in the loft
4-    Organise bookshelf in the lounge.

The shed is yet to be tidied up at the time of writing (I can’t even go in there myself; it’s a jungle of furniture and garden tools), but two of the other jobs my wife asked me to do recently were carried out almost to perfection. My son pulled the football table apart and I took it to the local dump. I also brought stuff down from the shed and put some other stuff back up there.

As for the bookshelf in the lounge…

That job got half-done, if I am being honest. My heart was not in it. I am a hoarder and when it comes to books, it is hard for me to let go.

Oh, c'mon, it wasn't that bad!

Recently I read an article by one of my favourite columnists, Eva Wiseman, on a new book that has just come out and which deals with the ubiquitous – and to some – annoying world of clutter. In The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Marie Kondo advocates a clutter-free world. That the author thinks this can be achieved in a quick and easy way shows how deluded some self-help writers are these days. Let’s be honest, who has not ever indulged in a bit of junk-collecting? Mind you, it’s not all intentional. But we accumulate stuff throughout life. In fact, one of my favourite words in English is “stuff”. It’s a typical term for this Germanic lexicon’s tendency to economise language. Such a short word and yet so much meaning in it. Stuff covers our toy-strewn childhood, our adolescence with its crushes, bust-ups and disappointments. It moves through our young adulthood like blood pumping through our veins in all directions of our body; constantly, unconsciously and relentlessly. It does not stop in our mature years. In fact “stuff” helps us reconnect with our younger selves.

However, at some point “stuff” must stop. This is the hard part. This is what Eva was writing about. She has accumulated so much personal memorabilia through her young life that she could set up her own museum. But as a new family, she, her boyfriend and their baby demand a certain order. Only in these circumstances can I understand de-cluttering.

As I sat in front of our bookshelf (I say “our”. My wife’s books occupy the top part. The bottom two shelves are taken over by mine. I also had volumes spilling out of the shelves, sitting in piles scattered across the floor, hence the need for the “clearing out”) I did not see literature but history. Personal history. I started to remember when, where and how I had bought a certain book. The online reviews that led me to part with my money and the below-the-line comments that followed were still ringing in my ears.

This is the difficulty of tidying up. You clean up your house but with the rubbish you also discard a bit of yourself. Because, believe you me my dear fellow blogger, with each poetry tome, magazine and novella I chucked out, a part of me abandoned my body. In the end I decided to donate all the books to one of my local charity shops.

Message to Marie Kondo: de-cluttering is never easy. In fact, it can be rather cruel and heart-breaking.

Talking of organising, one of the upsides of my recent bookshelf-tidying-up was a very welcome encounter with the poetry of Ali Jimale Ahmed. Ali is a Somali poet whose book Fear is a Cow I bought in 2008 at a bookshop in Brick Lane (what did I say before about books, de-cluttering and memories? I can even remember the clothes I was wearing that day). The poetry collection was sandwiched in between two heavyweights ( I think it was The Second Sex and Ulysses) so that was one reason why I had not paged through the book for a good three or four years.

What I like doing with poetry is open the book on any page at random and say out loud to myself: read the first poem on the right/left, top or bottom of the page. Sometimes there is only one poem which makes the job easy for me. From now on, once in a while I will share one of these "random" poems with you. I hope you enjoy the first entry of this new section. Shall we call it “random poetry”? Or even better, “random poetry after the tidying-up”?

Brass Tacks

The damask rays of a morning sun
Gatecrash through the chinks of our shack
Beckoning us to a hilltop
And to a time neither fettered by guilt
Nor swamped by dreams
Housed in bubbles of ineptitude

Through the chinks of our shack
seep unbidden
the damask beams
of a mourning sun beckoning
us to a hilltop and to a time
Neither sequestered by fear
nor swamped by dreams
housed in bubbles of servitude 

© 2015

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be posted on Wednesday 24th June at 6pm (GMT)


  1. Well, I have cut the grass, take the boys to a father son Lego build at the bookstore and done 3 loads of laundry. I think I am near the end of my list for the day.
    There is some satisfaction with putting the world back in order. It is the motivation I lack often - because I am completely comfortable in chaos. Ha.

  2. That is a truly beautiful and evocative poem. And heart-breaking to only have moments 'Neither sequestered by fear
    nor swamped by dreams
    housed in bubbles of servitude'.
    As a chronic bookaholic I feel your pain about amputating any of them.

  3. One doesn't see Damask often enough; and so well used!


  4. Soy de alma ordenada, pero hay que decir que no es fácil para quienes no lo son, con lo cual muchas veces la tolerancia no es fácil.
    Que tengas un feliz fin de semana.

  5. Liked the piece...great writing. Yeah, I also need to organize my book shelves.

  6. Organized as can be at my sea, the stuff is all piled neatly away or chucked into the trash bay

  7. Hey Cubano--you have my sympathies--this book (by Marie Kondo) has caused a fair amount of controversy at my house. It is very interesting, but also a little crazy. I and my husband even more have accumulated things from other people's lives, which is always especially hard! And we definitely have too much, but as you age, objects serve as mnemonics too--so that adds another level of difficulty. Thanks as always for interesting post, and also for your kind words. k.

  8. lol, I could use some cleaning up too.

  9. That is a very touching and sad poem. Makes one really think.

  10. From my point of view, books, like many things in life, are both a curse and a blessing and, above all, a cliché in many ways.

    As for handling "to do lists" from spouses, divorce is always an option. If marriage is not part of the equation, a simple nod and a smile and the word, "goodbye," are sufficient. No paperwork necessary.

    As always, I am serious, but sharing all household tasks equally probably is a better remedy.

  11. Thought provoking and touching. Wonderfully written.

  12. Loved this post (and the poem). Coincidentally our thought processes are on the same level since my time is spent 'clearing out'. Books though are sacred, they must stay.

  13. There is stuff, and there are books. Before I went travelling for a year, in my mid-50s, I had to put everything I wanted to keep in the loft and take the rest to charity shops or the tip. It was salutary - and made me realise that what really matters to me are books, and the rest is just stuff. I am still quick to ditch stuff - though do take inwanted presents to charity shops some distance away, so as not to hurt feelings!

  14. De-cluttering is a never ending is heartbreaking but it needs to be done every now & then ~ Thanks for sharing the poem as well ~

  15. i'm not so much a collector of things by nature so the danger of the house getting cluttered up is not so big - the only room that is always a bit of a mess is my painting room...

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  17. Decluttering is useful, but books are never really clutter. Lovely poem, I like the damask of the morning / mourning sun

  18. My goodness, what a brilliant post.

    My sister and I cleaned out our family home a few years ago and it was so difficult parting with all those memories. I took a ton of old "stuff" to my new apartment, including stacks of books, and I know I must declutter, but I've yet to do it.

    How much of our stuff makes up our identify, I wonder. Can we just ruthlessly dispose of books and other items that mean so much to us? I tend to doubt it, but good luck!

  19. Even if you are not much of a hoarder, if you are a book lover it is easy for the books to pile up and accumulate before they seem to have taken over. Books are certainly the things it is hardest to get rid off as far as I am concerned.

  20. I can only describe this wonderful post as "Universal"!!
    Losing a part of oneself with each discarded item is something almost everyone can relate to.
    Once upon a time I thought it was only me, with my extreme sensitivity...but now I know it isn't.
    All those things were once important...especially books. Out whole being was once absorbed into their pages, so it is obvious when you come to think of it...that the final separation from these will be painful, to say the least.
    Well...that's my excuse, anyway, for being the owner of bookcases that erupt onto the study floor every time I open the doors!! lol ;D

    Have a Fabulous Week.:))

  21. De-cluttering can indeed be like throwing away a part of one's soul...

  22. I try to be organized but I have such a hard time making decisions about where to put stuff.

  23. I'm tackling a long to do list myself, and like you, I find it hard to part with books. I donated 2 bags of mostly YA to a book sale at my daughter's school. I love 10,000 Maniacs and was lucky enough to see Natalie Merchant in concert last fall. She was brilliant. Best of luck with your tasks!



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