Going nowhere – but we have a plan

Today hasn’t worked out as planned at all. The weather forecast said it would be a bit warmer last night and today would be calm but foggy. We had tentatively discussed a little trip out on the boat, just a few miles down the canal to a turning point and back to the marina in time for tea. It would also be the ideal opportunity to let the stove go out and give it a really good clear out. It’s been burning for a couple of weeks now and it tends to get a bit clogged up and less efficient as time goes on. That was the plan, this is the reality: Gill is tucked up in bed with a horrible cold infection, the marina has a thin coating of ice on it again and I have spent the last hour coaxing the fire back to life rather than letting it go out. We are going nowhere today.

Come to think of it, today is like an analogy of the bigger picture. Our old home in Warton is up for sale but we haven’t had any offers so far. Paying bills on two homes means that we are tied to working until such time as it’s sold and being tied to work means that we can’t just take off and travel indefinitely on the boat. In other words, we are going nowhere tomorrow or the next day either.

Never mind; it’s nice when a plan comes together but it’s also important to be flexible and make the most of things when it doesn’t.

Another plan has gone a bit pear shaped in the last few days but in a good way. We had been planning to go back to our old house and pack up the rest of our belongings to bring them back to the boat. Goodness knows where we were going to put it all but we would cross that bridge later. I knew that we could be imaginative and creative in using all the available space on the boat and I just hoped that once we had it all on board we would work something out. Fortunately, the problem was solved by a simple observation from Gill. She said to me one morning; “the mistake we are making is trying to fit our old life into the boat rather than starting a new one on it”. Light bulb moment!

Just needs a bit of organising

We realised with a bit of reflection that we had been living on board Golden Girl for months now without any hardship whatsoever. We are living in comfort, doing everything we want to do and enjoying life. Why do we need more stuff? So rather than go back to collect the rest of our precious belongings we examined what we were actually missing and it turned out to be next to nothing. What should have been several trips in the car and maybe the use of hire van became one trip, a half filled car and wonderful sense of freedom.

A few more ‘essentials’ to find a home for

We left behind kitchen cupboards and wardrobes full of ‘stuff’ that it turns out we just don’t need. Admittedly there are several boxes of things going into storage but nearly all of that falls into the category of ‘having special meaning’. You know, particular books, photos, keep-sakes etc. No doubt we will get pleasure one day from unpacking them again or if not, some poor relative will unpack them and add them to the pile of rubbish to be discarded.

We thought that we had been pretty good at paring down our belongings over the years but it seems that the temptation to acquire stuff is limited only by the space available to store it in. You may only be able to wear one pair of shoes at a time but given enough cupboard space you can’t half hoard a lot of pairs. We will, of course, have to empty the old house at some point but the contents will mostly be heading to the charity shops or the tip rather than joining us on board as part of our new life. Well, that’s the plan…………. for now.

Do you have a junk room?

Do you have a junk room? Or an attic, box room, garage or spare shed: whatever form it takes I mean somewhere that you can chuck all that stuff that won’t fit anywhere else. Or maybe you rent storage space to hold the possessions that don’t fit into your regular home anymore. Apparently the latter trend is growing rapidly and 11% of self-storage is used by people who are de-cluttering. That’s not de-cluttering. That’s moving your clutter somewhere else.

I’ve spoken to lots of people who have boxes in their attic that they put there the last time they moved house and they have never opened them since. (Me included at times) Even more intriguing is if you asked them to list the contents of those boxes they would struggle.

I wonder how many people have gone through the process of packing the contents of their house prior to a move without using the phrase; “I can’t believe how much stuff we have.” I’d love to hear from you if you are one of those rare individuals.

So, you might think that since Gill and I have gone to extremes to reduce what we own to the bare minimum we wouldn’t suffer from these problems but you would be wrong. Even though we don’t now have an attic, a spare room or a garage we have still managed to squirrel away about ten boxes of stuff that we haven’t opened in the two months since we moved into our park home. I am beginning to wonder if anybody is truly immune from this need to hang on to things no matter what.

My own weaknesses are bits of old bikes, off cuts of timber and knackered Ordnance Survey maps held together by brittle yellowing Sellotape. The idea of throwing a map away is such an anathema to me that I even have more than one copy of some maps and I still hang on to them. When we cleared my Dad’s shed out we found old tobacco tins full of broken and rusting screws. Maybe its genetic. As I type I am looking at a leather clock that used to belong to my Mum and Dad. It sits proudly on our mantelpiece and you know what? I don’t even like it!

When we went cycle touring for a few months we whittled our belongings down to just what would fit onto the bikes. We put a lot of time and effort into it until we felt confident that we weren’t taking anything that was superfluous to our needs. We more or less got it right too, but then we did something really strange.

I'm sure I've got a spare spoon in there somewhere

I’m sure I’ve got a spare spoon in there somewhere

While we were on the road we actually began to accumulate stuff. We bought a three pack of plastic Sporks because they were on offer, (combination spoon and fork that are supposedly unbreakable) and a five pack of toothbrushes despite that fact that I only needed one toothbrush to clean the chains on the bikes. We ‘forgot’ about food that we had bought and stored in the bottom of the panniers and I even carried a ‘handy’ sheet of polythene that somebody gave me even though it was ten times bigger than what I needed. Well you never know when it might come in useful do you? In other words, even when cycle-touring, and with such limited storage capacity, we still weren’t immune to the twin problems of ‘acquiring stuff’ and ‘hanging on to stuff’.

Maybe it’s all a matter of space. After all, how many people do you know with an empty garage that they put the car in each night? If I am right and the only way to avoid hanging on to stuff that you don’t really need is to limit your storage space then that would suggest that our 35’ x 12’ home is too big! Maybe a narrow boat is the only answer. I would miss my shed though.

I looked up the definition of Junk on Oxforddictionaries.com. It told me that is was “Old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value”. When you put it like that it seems a strange thing to dedicate a room to doesn’t it?

Then again, there is another definition of the word junk. It also means: Worthless writing. Hmmm?

 

 

Getting rid of stuff

We made the decision to go on our ‘big tour’ three months ago and quickly set a date of 26th April 2014 for departure. This means that I know exactly how much time we have left to get rid of stuff.

I should explain that one of the purposes of this trip is to change our lives. To kick us up the backside and make us review the way we live and earn our living. To this end we will be giving up our tenancy, our jobs (made easier for me by my employers making me redundant) and our current way of life. We will also be discarding the vast majority of our possessions in anticipation of a less materialistic way of life on our return. Not that we are particularly materialistic in the first place. We don’t have a fancy car, televisions in every room or a coffee maker that cost more than a month’s salary. But we do still have a remarkable amount of stuff.

The task of getting rid of stuff seems fairly straight forward on the surface. It’s only once you actually start to empty the cupboard/drawer/box-from-the-loft that you realise that stuff falls into different categories. There are three broad types of stuff which can then be subdivided as follows:

Stuff we need – split into really need and think we need. (There lies the first complexity)

Stuff we don’t need but want – art, sentimental things, books etc.

Stuff that doesn’t fall into either of the above. This is called rubbish. It turns out we have been storing a remarkable amount of this third category for many years.

So, now we have broken down what we are dealing with it should surely be fairly easy to get rid the things we don’t need. Wrong.

Let’s start with the rubbish. This is easy isn’t it? You just put it in the bin don’t you? Wrong again. If only it were that simple. Each item must first be examined to see if it has a symbol on it indicating that it shouldn’t be put in the bin. (Like a wheely bin with a cross through it.) The problem is, it doesn’t have an equivalent symbol telling you what to do with it. Then there is the guilt problem. As you lift the lid of the bin and are about to drop the offending item in a voice in your head says, “Somebody would be glad of that toast rack/cardigan/broken watch etc”. At this point you are doomed. You can’t now throw it in the bin but must decide how to get it into the hands of the needy person. Charity shop?  Freecycle?  E-Bay?  This list goes on and that’s without e-mailing everybody in your contacts list to ask them if they want your old cardigan. (On reflection that last one is probably a really bad idea.)

Before you know it your rubbish is in several distinct piles according to how you are going to get rid of it. There are bags for the charity shop, bags for the dump, items that need to be photographed for re-sale and items that need to be advertised on Freecycle. It’s really tempting at this point to do one of two things; throw it all in the bin regardless or put it all back in the cupboard.

Don’t even get me started on the sentimental stuff or the books. The more threadbare or broken the Teddy or the more smelly and tattered the book and the harder it is to discard it. It’s a nightmare.

We are getting there but as I look around the house after three months of moderately concerted effort I have to say I don’t see much difference. We still have loads of stuff.

In my head I have ranked the various methods of disposal according to preference. Dropping it in the bin being the easiest and most satisfying, and giving it away the most complex and bewildering. Selling it is somewhere in the middle being complex but satisfying.

One way of giving things away is to advertise them on a website called Freecycle. The concept is admirable; stop things from being thrown into landfill by giving them another lease of life with somebody who will appreciate them. The volunteers who run the site have my utmost respect. The people that request the things I have advertised for free can be a little more challenging. You wouldn’t believe the questions that people ask. For example, in response to an advert for something titled “White board, 90 x 60cm”, “will it fit in the back of a car?” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great concept but you do have to grit your teeth when five people are requesting an old spin drier and you are trying to be fair about who gets it when somebody asks, “can I come and have a look at it?”. Er, no, it’s free JUST COME AND COLLECT IT! Anyway it went to a lovely lady who ran a dog rescue service and had mountains of wet towels to deal with from washing the rescued dogs.

We have booked a small storage unit now, limiting ourselves to a 50 square foot unit which has focussed our minds on what we keep. Hopefully it’s just a matter of keeping at it over the following six months. Now what shall I do with this broom. There’s really nothing wrong with it that a new handle and head wouldn’t fix.

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