We recently moved back to New Zealand from Northern Ireland and even though we were only away 18 months we somehow managed to acquire lots of things – not to mention the identical twin boys that gave our firstborn son two instant little brothers.
We were fortunate and had a furnished house waiting for us when returned home, and our shipping container stuffed with boxes and furniture arrived back home months after we did. Most of it went straight into the garage where it still sits, unpacked and gathering dust and the odd cat who sleeps in there to avoid the twins.
It was only at Christmas time that I ventured into the cats’ cardboard box kingdom to dig out our tangled strings of fairy lights when I looked around and had a ‘Do we really need all this stuff’ moment.
We had everything we needed already, I thought, so why bother holding onto all these things. Emboldened by a daytime television interview I had seen with someone who billed themselves as a “decluttering expert” (they said it makes you happier and calmer) I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.
In the first box there were old dinner plates, ones I had almost forgotten about. They were chipped and cracked, old Crown Lyn ones, brought from the Grey St Market in our last week in Hamilton for me to take to Northern Ireland as a small and comforting reminder of home.
There was a giant glass decorative bowl that was sitting on the mantlepiece of our overseas home when we got there. Given to us by friend’s of my husband’s parents, we never knew quite what it was or what to do with it but could never seem to part with it nonetheless.
There was a broach handmade by an old neighbour, a pottery artist who fired her clay with soil from Hamilton, so that on my wedding day in Ireland I would always have a piece of home with me.
There were my before-three-babies clothes, impossibly skinny jeans and party dresses and heels, kept as I had always fancied giving them to a daughter, now nothing but a faded memory of a life before kids.
But then I realised that was exactly the point of all my stuff. They were memories, ready to be recollected in technicolour detail every time I held up an old dress, the smell of nightclub smoke and perfume still in a sleeve, or when I served dinner to my sons on a plate bought when I thought I would never return to my home.
I thought about the things I wished I had kept – my Winnie the Pooh stuffed toy that won me “Best Smiling Bear” at a teddy bear’s picnic when I was five, a ceramic owl jar stuffed fulled of handwritten notes I used to leave for the fairies in the garden, my late father’s typewriter he used to write his rugby columns for South African newspapers.
So I will keep all my things, and no doubt the pile will grow over the years as my sons stop playing with toys or reading picture books that I will never be able to bring myself to give away.
I will be a cluttered, hoarding, mess with 27 pairs of jeans that don’t fit and casserole dishes I will never cook with but I will have my memories and I will be the richest person in New Zealand.