Starting As I Mean To Go On ~ The Big De-Clutter, Or This Writer’s Extra-Convoluted Displacement Activity?


Well not so much de-cluttering as re-arranging, though somehow I’ve ended up with a whole BIG EMPTY drawer beneath the cabin bed in the office. I should of course see this as a great achievement on day one of 2018, but I’m afraid the whole process has made me very ratty. Not a good way to start the year.

One problem is I find myself at the end of the line for two branches of family memorabilia – in particular the material evidence of the lives of two deceased aunts – maternal and paternal. I was very fond of them, Miriam and Evelyn, and we three had much in common. Both were passionate gardeners, readers, writers, watchers, makers, generous authors of many small kindnesses. And both were keen on family history, gathering in whatever they could in the days before Ancestry and Find My Past.

I now have their gleanings – barely readable notes, diaries, photographs – all the makings of good stories if only someone could knock the stuff into a shape that would mean something to family others. That someone has to be me. And I think I should do it, because if I don’t, no one else will. And that’s when I start getting cross. Imposition looms like a heavy, wet fog. Hmph.

The moving of the auntly archive from the pine blanket chest in one bedroom to the pine chest of drawers in another bedroom (so facilitating the BIG emptying of the office drawer into the now empty pine blanket chest) leads to encounters with my own archive. The aunts kept most of the letters I wrote to them during our eight years in Africa. They are very detailed letters. I need to revisit them. Well I do, don’t I? Then there are all the Africa photos and negatives. I never did finish scanning them.

More long-winded tasks loom.

Not only that, when you start shunting stuff around the house, and arguing with yourself over what should be kept, and what should not, you then find all sorts of diversions.  And yet the whole point of the de-cluttering process was so I could free up the office, create clear spaces for laying out the notes relating to some of the several unfinished writing projects that have long lodged on my brain’s back boiler.

Which is where this photo comes in. As I was sorting through boxes and folders, I found a forgotten scan of it, taken by Graham many New Years ago at the Bronze Age stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold in the Shropshire borderland. You will notice that my blog header is cropped from another scanned version of it. That’s me all huddled up in many layers. But I love the huge wintry sky above me, and the blue hills of Wales stretching far, far away behind me. It’s reminding me that this is where my head needs to be. Never mind the clutter. It’s a piece of very elaborate self-sabotage. Off to the realm of imagination, that’s where writers need to be.

Thank you, Julie Riso, for reminding me of where the best paths are.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

68 thoughts on “Starting As I Mean To Go On ~ The Big De-Clutter, Or This Writer’s Extra-Convoluted Displacement Activity?

  1. Happy new year, Tish! It’s all so easy to get swamped, overwhelmed and sidetracked. I have two very large storage containers in the study with family memorabilia and things that need to be appreciated, sorted, and preserved. I have to make that “should” turn into “I want to”, but writing holds more appeal at the moment.

  2. Ah, Tish, I know exactly what you mean,…a big task that should have been started last New Year still looms over me….aargh.

  3. Does this mean you will be too busy to write for us? Going down all those lost paths could be exciting or could be way to much remembering . Don’t leave us . I would hate that.

  4. I’m seeing my own world as you write about yours. I’m almost at the point of wishing I and everyone I know were (?) illiterate. So much easier. I’m tempted to let my son loose – he’s a happy chucker (although I’ve just discovered he has 40 surfboards! They’re apparently not clutter.) but, as you say, so many stories. Maybe this is the year of writing them. Trouble is other stories keep happening.

    Have a wonderful year, figuring out what to do. In the realm of the imagination or wherever.

    1. That’s it exactly, Meg. The stories keep breeding, but only give you little glimpses – just enough to tantalise and lure one off track. But 40 surf boards – already I’m feeling better about my clutter depository 🙂

  5. Letters are a very fine resource for writing, especially as you write, when they contain lots of details that may have escaped your memory. Good luck with your projects!

  6. You’ve certainly set yourself up for a lot of work. I’m having trouble staying awake at all! Yet I’m going to be very busy very soon. So unfair. I’m ready for some mid-winter hibernation.

    1. I think one does have to leave time for a bit of hibernating. It’s too easy to tell yourself you are being lazy/unproductive, when in fact you need to re-charge. All the more reason if there’s much busyness afoot. Today I seem to have woken up with a cold/cough bug. Maybe it was lurking in the clutter. Or maybe it’s the sensible body saying – stop beating yourself up. REST! So do give yourself some time off.

  7. Similar situation in my house – luckily I have an unoccupied guest room where all of this stuff can be scattered around in piles until it is decided what happens to which stack. Happy decluttering!

  8. Oh I have an entire floor to ceiling double-wide cupboard of stuff to be sorted through. Every day the thought comes and goes to make a start. Maybe tomorrow . . . . . . .
    But you’re right – never mind the clutter. Do what is most calling out to you.
    Happy New Year Tish.

  9. The New Year tends to take us down the winding roads of nostalgia. De-cluttering can only intensify that. It’s a necessary, yet difficult thing to do. But, hopefully, you’ll feel better when it’s all done. Thanks for the mention. 🙂

    1. Thanks for those good hopes, Julie. My self-imposed bind is triggered by the endlessly scavenging writer brain that is so sure that in all those archives is just the source material I need for the half-baked projects. An interesting, if aggravating syndrome.

  10. Clutter, archives, memorabilia, old photos, and letters are hard to ignore. I keep shifting my stuff around, too, not really knowing what to do with it all. Maybe it is best ignored in favour of creative pursuits and the realm of imagination. All the best!

  11. Happy New Year, – May it be filled with peace and much creative expression. Like you I always de-clutter at the beginning of the new year….and for what it’s worth..this is what I have done with all the family stuff that I have inherited. I have put all letters, cards, telegrams, and goodness knows what in great big photograph albums so that when I kick the bucket my children can just take them out of the book case. Anyway, that’s the plan:) have fun Janet 🙂

  12. This is such a problem… not like cleaning up after working, or even deciding what we need for the rest of our journey. It’s more like what we want buried with us under the pyramid. I’ve struggled with this for years… and there are some things I’ve put in aside, knowing I would never look at them again, but didn’t have the heart to throw out. I remember a package I found among my father’s things after he died, and written across the very well made package, was the strange inscription… ‘not to be touched by anyone’. I like the picture though. It’s strong.

    1. Hello, Shimon. New Year’s greetings to you. I love that story about your father. Of course you know what I’m itching to ask, but I will refrain. Also love your image of the pyramid. You have nailed the problem exactly. My conflicting thoughts on this are, when it finally comes down to it, does any of it matter. Should one simply be content to let all blow away like the sands around the pyramid. My opposing view is that all our individually collected archives contain important truths, nuggets of wisdom/information that should be passed on, since there may have been great pain, turmoil or effort involved in their acquisition. I have an African saying stuck on the wall above my computer – it comes from the Akamba people of East Africa: “Only stories have the power to change the human heart.”

  13. I’m with you Tish. Why wait for the sunny days of spring to start the spring cleaning! New Year, new start. I have already re-arranged the lounge, moved a bookcase to the OH’s studio so he can move his IT, Music and Poetry books from the bookcases in the dining-hall and I can re-arrange the rest of the books. Followed by the trunks, the drawers and the cupboards and the filing cabinet. Luckily we had a massive de-clutter when we moved, but time to jettison a lot more. I’m sure my kids won’t want any of my old film photos (I’m not even sure I want any of them) or sentimental cards, but what to do with the newspaper from VE Day and my father’s medical notebook from his time as a RAF medic? And I need more storage!! Yet again we have bought a house with inadequate storage… otherwise I wouldn’t need to concern myself about all this. I also have several writing tasks I want to complete/begin and then there’s the temptation of getting outside to photograph Cornwall’s beauty (though that is not the least bit tempting at the moment). A dilemma indeed.

    1. You’ve covered all my qualms and irritations here, Jude, though you seem to have accomplished a great deal already. And you’re right about the timing. Strike while the weather is rubbish, or else we’ll be running away outside. You to the beach. me to the polytunnel 🙂

  14. maybe it’s that time of year to think about tasks like this? And funny…I have dozens of ringed notebooks full of my old letters from many journeys. None in digital format. I don’t think that task is going to get done.

    1. It may well be a seasonal dilemma, BF. I think digitising stuff is only useful if you’re going to do something else with the material – e.g. write a book, make an anthology. In that format it at least allows for some moderately pain-free editing. Otherwise, the notebooks will probably survive far more reliably than digital versions. We’re setting too much store by the latter.

  15. Ah Tish, treasure all those memories. take time to look, read, contemplate and let them out into the world. a long and very time consuming job. I have always been a minimalist. I have no saved drawings from my children’s school days, no photos or records of my parents, don’t even know the names of my grand parents, all dead by the time I was born. Leaving UK at 18 with one trunk of belongings and never being a hoarder I sometimes envy the rich culture and past of large families that have lived in one place. I’ve heard it said that with this past decade or two of digital records, that can be deleted at the press of a button, the world is in danger of not keeping a record of the detail of every day life. Best wishes to you in this mammoth task and I’ll be looking forward during 2018 to following your progress.

    1. I take all your wise points, Pauline. And one of my worries is that if I digitise everything and so get rid of the original material, then that could amount to throwing them away. There was a prog on BBC Radio 4 yesterday which addressed the whole problem of data storage, and digital systems simply are NOT reliable. So whatever happens, it all needs to be shaped into some sort of approachable hard copy too. But as to the heavy labour, as I said to Jo, I’ve had the thought of getting Graham on the case while he’s housebound by the weather. Nothing like a bit of delegation when one’s feeling hemmed in 🙂

      1. Could be a good idea delegating to Graham, but could lead to endless debates as what you both consider keepers and chuckers. I know it does with Jack and me (I’m the “chucker”) and usually ends with “Oh well we’ll just put it away till later!!!” Good luck….

  16. Yay! I’ve been up there! 🙂 🙂 On another and very blue, heavenly day. My first thought was that your title would never do for Six Words, Tish, but now I’ve realised that I’m unlikely to talk to you again for a gazillion years, while you accomplish all this. Go to it! 🙂

    1. I’ve had another notion. It’s too cold to go in the shed so I’ve commissioned G to do the transcribing of letters etc. With luck we may just speak sooner than in a gazillion years’ time 🙂

      1. Get a man on the job! His organisational skills will come to the fore, but is he good at reading spindly writing? Time will tell, and he’ll probably enjoy it. And think of the discussions you can have? 🙂 🙂

      2. He’s ever so good at spindly writing. I’ve accidentally been training him – giving him 16th and 17th deeds and wills to transcribe on behalf of my 2 fellow Derbyshire Fox family researchers. We three Fox descendants (met on the net) each descend from 18th century siblings, which is rather magic, but none of us can be bothered to plough through manuscripts. Enter Graham. He’s been getting pretty good at it, so should find my and other family members’ scribble a doddle (probably).

  17. I think you know what you’ll do, and it’ll be just fine. Enjoy dipping into those treasures, and letting them take you one way or the other. Perhaps a Zen approach would work…

  18. Wow! My decluttering exercises usually just result in a lot of trash to throw away. Yours has resulted in a treasure trove of personal writings (yours and the Aunties) will be a source of inspiration for 2018. Yes, the task ahead seems daunting, but oh the beauty you will create from all of it. Can not wait to see where you are with it all at the end of the year. PS – Lovely shot Graham!

  19. Well, one year on and my 50 years of letters collection does not seem to be going down very fast. I have bags of shredded ones but no empty space. How is that? Good luck with your family history!

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