A game - stop into Clapham High Street’s charity shops and guess which size 12/14 clothes might have belonged to me between 1999 and 2006. I’ve had a righteous clear-out this week. Considering I live in a room roughly the size and shape of a garden shed, you’d think this would be relatively easy, but this is until you consider the twin facts of a) navigating a tall frame in a space without much, er, spacethe quite staggering amount of tat and curios I’ve accumulated over the last 18 months. This included:
- Tickets to things I enjoyed but have nowhere to keep because I distrust memento books.
- CDs of bands I loathed (but, well, someone else might like)
- Odds and sods from festival goodie bags (it was free, it would be bad to throw away)
- A first-class airplane kit thrust on me as unwanted reward for babysitting a fucked D-list sleb on a flight to South Africa
- odd envelopes (I might find the matching card)
- photos ( I NEVER throw away photos, even if half the film was taken by drunken people with lens-obscuring fingers)
- a pile of very old magazines (research, possibly)
- Christmas decorations bought last year as a forgotten Secret Santa present (justified through dint of hanging them up in my room now.)
- ill-fitting tat from film junkets (to sell on eBay when I get time)
- ill-fitting eBay purchases (ditto)
- clothes unworn for years (ditto squared)
- my beloved and be-fucked up shirt that belonged to my beloved Dad (he’s not dead by the way, I just love the shirt)
- postcards, letters, application forms for limboed bank accounts
- countless boxes bought from Emap sales because they were pretty and might be useful (no and no)
If my flat were firebombed tomorrow I probably wouldn’t remember what half of the extra stuff was, but sitting down and getting rid of things is not something I do easily. I’m a “just in case” person (although I don’t really see how 17 half-working pens are useful to anyone other than those cursed with both illiteracy and ADHD). Still, even though my room looks disappointingly unchanged, there is at least less of a sense of being part of a game of domestic sardines.
Of course, the principal realisation is “My God! I should have done this ages ago!”, like all those people who spring clean never really understood the joys of ditched clutter as clearly as I do now. I even replaced the knackered Oyster card holder I’ve been using as a purse for the last seven months. I could, realistically, have just bought myself another wallet – the last having disappeared somewhere between singing ‘She’s Like The Wind’ with Olly Richards at Empire karaoke and waking up at 3am in Crystal Palace – but instead I am now quite unnerved by the fact that my life doesn’t spill over strangers’ feet whenever I clock into Oxford Circus.
The hoarding again, the “just in case”. When I say I hoard things, this extends to people. That wallet had business cards belonging to Birmingham photographers, Welsh comedians, PRs for computer game firms, musical directors, restaurants in places I’d never go again (“might” never go again), tickets, newspaper clippings, scribbled down bits of things I love and very occasionally, money. At the beginning of this year I decided to teach myself to do The Times cryptic crossword by cutting out the crossword and then matching it up with the answers the next day. This worked pretty well until I stopped picking up the paper in the morning, and ended up with 30-odd newspaper clippings that didn’t belong to each other. I didn’t throw them away, because…you know. They might come in handy should I ever come across someone with the same idea but the corresponding days.
My bedroom at my parents house – in name only, I haven’t slept in it since I was 17 because I banished myself to the much larger bedroom hidden away at the other end of the house in the guise of not wanting to wake my parents while I read at 4am – is still filled with old crap from college and school, tickets, photos, books from university, a toy rabbit a friend at school gave me one birthday, old clothes, love letters in boxes and Jiffy bags, compilation tapes, lamps shaped like goldfish that don’t work but that I loved, things that I look at and instead of being covered in dust, have memories stamped all over them.
As my mother is quite rightly getting fed up with this messy shrine to several incarnations-worth of Kats, every time I go home I am marched towards it and given several bin liners and Meaningful Looks. At this point I shrivel. I can’t throw anything away, ANYTHING. I’ve got about 11 Elles in my cupboard and I can’t fucking stand Elle. I’ve got the Doc Martins my parents bought me as a consolation prize after I fell off my bike and broke my teeth aged 10. (They still fit, horrifyingly, but that’s not why I kept them). There’s a load of clothes I never wear or think about, but can’t do anything with because they’re soldered to memories. Same with old toys that old friends who disappeared ages ago gave me. Things I won. Things people gave me. So either I sit on the floor and start looking at everything and getting bittersweet nostalgic, or I do what I did last time which was close my eyes, scrabble everything in bags and run away throwing a childish wobbly.
In the past I have hung on to friends and lovers who were also well past their expiry date. This was either because we had nothing better to do than each other, or because I couldn’t accept the sense of failure I felt from not being the one who worked. It took a while for me to realise that they weren’t the one who worked for me either, and that was just as good a reason for ending it. As you sift through clutter, old tickets, old shirts, old memories, and consign them to the bin, so you do the same for friendships and relationships. People are cut off MSN. Conversations dry up before they’ve started.
Then there are others that you look at and hold on to. There are people I have got out of my life and then there are people who I’ve held on to because they’re worth more, worth now. They haven’t necessarily made you feel good all the time, but that’s not what people do, wha they’re supposed to do. There’s still too much good left to come and pride is too selfish an emotion to make you see that clearly, all the time.
“If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you” is a line that has burned itself into my mind.
If life were so clear-cut we’d be living in Pleasantville, and people aren’t like that, with or without Reese Witherspoon. I’m not like that. I’m a total fucking bitch at times, although I try very hard not to be. We have horrible sides, selfish sides, complications and curiosities that charm some and revolt others but which are unavoidable sometimes.
If you can get through that in the same way they have for you, and know that not everything is made of bread and roses then you can see things more clearly. It makes you look at the person realistically and recognise each other’s fallibilities as well as their glories. Which, in the long run, makes them entirely human, and as far away from the pedestal they always feared because you’re just there – looking at each other, face to face, without the clutter.