• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 12


I’d only just pulled the suitcase through the front door and was taking off my coat when Mum accosted me.

“We’re decluttering” she said. “It’s time you went through all your stuff that’s still in the house.”

She led me to the living room, into which boxes had been dragged down from the attic and lugged up from the basement, containing possessions I’d left over the years. Things I’d put into “temporary” storage after leaving school and during university, while traipsing around the world on my travels, or during tearful spells between boyfriends. Mum had divided the room into 3 zones: to take to the tip, to donate to charity shops, and a much smaller area for items I planned to keep, but would need to take back to the UK with me at the end of the visit. “Be ruthless!” she said, handing me a recycling bag.

I tackled each phase of my youth in turn. Most toys had been distributed over the years to my niece and nephew and neighbourhood children, although I found the occasional dishevelled Barbie doll, as well as a pink plastic pony with rainbow mane locked in a passionate embrace with E.T. The teenage memorabilia proved easy to discard – most cassette tapes had unspooled, now just tangled reminders of the music that had fuelled my adolescent angst. And I was never going to fit into those black netted leggings and corset tops even if I’d wanted to.

My university era collection seemed disproportionately large. I had squirrelled away my heavy economics and politics textbooks, all my handwritten notes, plus essays typed up on an early Apple Mac. Had I optimistically planned to re-read them some day?



I sifted through letters and silly gifts from friends, chipped mugs stained by late-night coffee grounds, a star-shaped crystal box once containing earrings from a boyfriend, then used as an ashtray during my brief flirtation with smoking. Remove, recycle, reduce. Marie Kondo would be proud.

After several hours, the boxes were empty and the room full of unwanted belongings. The pile of things I was going to keep was small, but consisted mainly of books. I predicted I’d pay excess luggage fees on the flight home. I called Mum in to inspect. She surveyed the swaying towers of mementos. “Oh!” she said, fingering a hand-stitched dog. “This one was your favourite. You couldn’t go to sleep without it.” She removed it from the pile. A bright tin of coloured pencils caught her eye. “I brought you this from my trip to Geneva. Proper artists’ pencils!” She pulled it aside. A clutch of Penguin paperbacks with their original orange spines followed, then some macramé potholders I’d made at school. When I finally left to go find some lunch, she was working her way through the fairy tales I’d drafted in French as part of an assignment, laughing quietly to herself. The zones for the tip and the charity shop now looked rather depleted.