Thursday 25 May 2017


A couple of weekends ago, prompted by the bright spring sunshine illuminating cobwebbed corners and dusty surfaces, I embarked on some seasonal cleaning, and spent a productive hour tidying and pruning this bookshelf, one of the many bookshelves in the house. 

Two carrier bags full of books plus assorted odds and ends took a trip to the charity shop, several stray volumes found new homes on a half-emptied shelf, and my sense of 'stuffocation' diminished ever so slightly. Encouraged by this minor success I've been extending the decluttering process to other areas of the house. This is not an easy task for me.

Like King Canute, when confronted by the inexorable advance of a self-made tide of stuff (stuff for future projects, work-in-progress stuff, stuff that's just been left lying around), I know deep-down that resistance is futile and I will never be entirely clutter-free. I'm not even sure I would want to live in a minimalist home. I like the sense of light and space, and the feeling of calm they engender, yet I'm still irresistibly compelled, like a greedy magpie, to feather my own nest with objects I find interesting/pleasing to look at. Once something has been 'chosen' I find it almost impossible to later cast it aside.

My husband has fewer 'hobbies', and thus a smaller amount of stuff, but he hates getting rid of anything even more than I do. "Where will you put it?" has become the go-to question whenever either of us is contemplating an addition to our collective belongings. It is the fear that we are teetering hand-in-hand on the brink of an entry-level hoarding disorder that really drives my urge to purge.

William Morris advised, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Ironically this is sometimes used as a mantra to aid decluttering, but it doesn't really work for me, because I do know that all those art/craft materials are useful and I do believe that the other things I collect and keep are beautiful!

A random corner of just one shelf holds a glowing 
butterfly-wing-blue chunk of Labradorite, a couple of lapis lazuli 
pebbles, an art-glass perfume bottle, a paperweight, two artist-made 
brooches (one enamel, one ceramic), a  wooden jigsaw I cut and painted 
years ago, a crazy hand-built bird-lady sculpture from eBay, and 
a tiny ceramic frog. The only one of these items I could even 
begin to consider discarding would be the frog - but he's too tiny
to make a he and the bird-lady share the same 
affable grin, so they kind of belong together...

I try to find places for the beautiful things where they can be seen and enjoyed, and to systematically sort useful things into assorted boxes, files and containers - thank heavens for Ikea - and every so often I will tackle a defined area and force myself to find a few items I can discard or re-home, or more often than not keep re-organise into a tidier configuration. I even enjoy the regular occasional dusting and polishing this entails. So maybe - in order to stay on the right side of the fine line between collecting and hoarding - I just need to acknowledge the positive feeling that a little lightening of the load can bring, and make sure I cherish and enjoy the stuff I choose to keep.
After all, I'm nowhere near as out of control as this chap.

Or am I?


Sunday 7 May 2017

...plodding on

The going has been tough lately. A spasm in my neck has left me sleepless and miserable for just over a week, compounding the stiffness in my shoulder and the niggling aches and pains in the rest of my body that seem to have become the norm since I hit my fifties. I struggle to maintain a positive outlook when I'm tired and "everything hurts!"

Still, I pulled myself together this morning and carried on regardless. I went into the back garden to hang the washing on the line and got completely distracted by the clematis, which is currently flowering fit to burst with a lavish abundance of blossoms. Its delicate tendrils are so graceful and elegant I'm almost tempted to allow their audacious advance along the washing line.

I'm really not a fan of regimented, clipped and manicured gardens, and my aversion to ruthless pruning and 'cutting back'  (even if it doesn't usually do lasting damage) means that my garden does have a tendency to get a little wild and overgrown. Like a prudent hairdresser I  feel it's better to take off a little bit at a time rather than cut too much at once, but Spring having sprung everything was in need of a good trim. An hour or so of judicious snipping, strimming, and raking later and things were looking less like a jungle a little tidier and my mood had liftedIt's hard to stay gloomy when there are visual treats everywhere.

I decided to quit while I was ahead, rather than cripple myself by over-doing it, so came inside and set about the task of repairing an 'old faithful' jacket. It's possibly not the best-looking garment in the world, but it's a nice, neutral, faded browny-khaki thing that magically expands to fit me when I'm at my biggest and doesn't swamp me when I'm at my slimmest. The side of one pocket gave way several years ago, and I got as far as buying the thread to repair it, but never actually did because as has already been established I'm prone to procrastination the button flap at the top kept it in place and it really wasn't very noticeable. Recently the right cuff started to fray badly, threads unravelling further every time I put it on.  

Perhaps serendipitously, on my way home from work on Tuesday I tuned in to a radio discussion about sustainable clothing and the way in which clothes used to be 'made to last'. The presenter was also talking about the emotional attachments we form to certain garments, through repeated wear. I remembered this blog post about 'visible mending', and decided to make repairing the jacket a creative project.

I thought it would be a good idea to use denim for the repair as I live in jeans nearly all the year round - thus the jacket could still 'go' with anything I might be wearing. Being a compulsive hoarder frugal, I naturally had the thread I originally bought for the pocket repair plus a piece of denim (salvaged from the leg of my husband's old jeans) set aside for just such a patching emergency as this. I cut a strip on the bias and used it to bind the fraying cuff. Although I was pleased with the repair, I wasn't sure whether to use denim for the other (somewhat less worn) cuff. After consulting with my resident style guru  daughter I decided instead to use an ancient remnant of cotton fabric left over from a summer skirt I made around thirty years ago - did I mention I was a hoarder? The pocket repair took literally seconds (if you don't count the years it took to get round to it). With the addition of the embroidered felt brooch I got for Christmas the jacket is now good to go again, imbued with even more sentimental value than it had before.

My weeknight project at the moment is this 'Weald' poncho, by Sandra Nesbitt from The Knitter magazine, Issue 110.

An antidote to the 4ply nightmare of seaming and picking up stitches that was 'Betsy's Poncho'. A seamless, circular, one-piece wonder, worked from hem to collar with strategically placed decreases for shaping. With chunky yarn. On big needles. Fabulous.