As a borderline hoarder, decluttering my home is like an episode of Time Team

You just never know when you’ll need a 12-year-old passport photo, an A-Z of Bournemouth or a Duke of Edinburgh award form, never completed.

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It’s the lovely lull between Christmas and New Year and I am throwing things away. You may think this means I am one of those Marie Kondo types, constantly reducing my belongings to only those which bring me joy, but in fact I have to confess that I am a borderline hoarder.

A few years ago I bought an in-tray, thinking that would help me keep important papers in order. It filled up and so I bought another. Then a set of two small plastic drawers. Then a box. And then another box. All of these were somehow fitted into the kitchen cupboards, in a classic out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to tidying, before finally spilling into a bowl, where I now keep all the ongoing detritus of my daily life.

But I have resolved, in these quiet days at the end of the year, to tackle it all – making piles of things to shred, to bin, to recycle, to put away properly. And oh Lord, the stuff I am finding.

All the downloaded and printed out campus maps from visiting universities with my daughters. They are now in their third year. The minutes of a meeting from primary school. My youngest child is 17. A small gadget to connect a hose pipe to the tap.

Emery boards and several bottles of nail polish. Two pairs of nail scissors. The cardboard frame from a school photo – no photo. Perhaps I sent the picture to my parents, who would have updated it among the collection on the sideboard.

A Nordic walking certificate. All the tickets from a cross-Europe train journey I went on five years ago. I remember that trip. I almost fell off a mountain and my daughter found a scorpion in her bedroom while I was away.

Some Strepsils. A pot of slime. Paracetamol, four years expired. Piriton, four years expired. My last two pairs of glasses, before the prescription changed. I kept one pair, Jean-Paul Gaultier from the Eighties. As if they might come back in fashion. As if my eyes might return to how they were.

Two Marine Girls albums, on cassette. A CD of an Everything but the Girl concert in Germany. A half-empty pack of Always Ultra pads, and a single tampon (I have been through my menopause).

It’s like an archaeological dig, or an episode of Time Team. The strata of my life revealed, all the secrets and lost treasure of recent years. Every so often I come across a layer of hand-made Mother’s Day cards, a rich seam of gold running through the rock. But then, just more and more nothing.

An appointment form for an allergy test for the youngest child – when he was ten. A letter about a school ski trip that nobody went on. A booklet entitled, “GCSEs – What can a parent do?”

A rail map of Europe, a metro map of Paris, an A-Z of Bournemouth. A Duke of Edinburgh award form, never completed. A small gift I bought for Ben earlier this year, intending to give as either a birthday or Christmas present, although both his birthday and Christmas have now sailed by.

Then more treasure. Lots of notebooks half-filled with scrawled lyrics, and ideas for songs. Two magazines containing nice interviews with me. My contract with the New Statesman! A Christmas card from the New Statesman! And, oh, now this stops me in my tracks, the last birthday card from my dad.

This is how it happens, isn’t it? This instinctive feeling that anything might turn out to be wanted. As I’m clearing, I say to Ben – who is the opposite of me in this respect, a tidy person who has the misfortune to live with an untidy one – “If I died and someone had to clear out my stuff, they’d think I was one of those mad old ladies who hoard everything.” And then I see the look on his face.

I don’t blame him. Amid all this chaos I’m astonished I ever get anything done.

I look at the stuff I’m keeping. Some of it counts. The Mother’s Day cards, a couple of photos. That nail polish. Balance is everything.

I’m chucking lots away, and my in-trays and boxes are neater, more organised.

But you, Declutterers of the World, don’t come running to me when you need a passport photo of yourself from 12 years ago, or a pack of expired Nurofen. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her books include Naked at the Albert Hall, Bedsit Disco Queen and, most recently, My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend

This article appears in the 11 January 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit Showdown

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