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Letting go

Earlier this year, I spent five very awesome months living in Sydney, in a small flat with very few belongings. (You buy less when you know that everything you acquire has to either be got rid of or expensively shipped in a few months.) Returning to the UK in July, I was taken aback by how much stuff I have.

The sense of having so many things around me is overpowering, even stifling. I find myself thinking longingly of my nice, empty flat in Sydney. The washing-up has less chance to build up when you only have two plates. It never takes more than ten minutes to tidy everything away. It’s easy to choose clothes (though I admit I was kind of bored by my half-a-dozen tops and three skirts by the time I left). There’s just more space.

And yet I still find it hard to let things go. To get rid of a bookcase’s worth of books took multiple passes. The book I removed from the shelves on the fourth pass was no more nor less valuable to me then than it was on the first pass, but it took me that long to wear down my attachment to the concreteness of it; to allow myself to let go.

This week, I’ve let go of a stack of Audax brevet cards (to the recycling), a dozen-odd festival programmes (posted to the John Johnson Collection), and some more clothes.

I also went through my craft drawers, and found a stack of “requires mending or altering” projects. One in particular, a top I knitted, made my heart sink. Currently it’s a little too wide, the seams are lumpy, it’s not the right length; and I can’t even begin to work out how I’d alter it so it’s enjoyable to wear.

For the last year — more? — I’ve been looking at it, and thinking those same thoughts, and then putting it back in the drawer, to lurk there and generate guilt. Because I knitted it, and so surely it’s worth doing something with.

This time, I took a deep breath, asked myself honestly whether I was ever really going to fix it, or if I even really wanted to (do I need another top?), and acknowledged that the answer was no. So I took another deep breath and started to rip it out (I do still like the yarn!).

It feels so freeing. I enjoyed making that top; I learnt some things from doing it; but I don’t actually wear it. So I’m letting it go, and the decision leaves me feeling lighter. That’s worth remembering.

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Freecycle, free shops, and letting things go

There’s a couple of obvious advantages to using Freecycle (or Freegle, which is the new UK-based version).  Giving a home to things you don’t want or need any more, rather than throwing them away.   Getting hold of things second-hand — and free! — rather than having to buy new and generate more waste.  (I got a stairgate from Freecycle recently when we acquired a new dog.) 

But I’ve found that it also helps with the process of deciding whether you really need to keep something at all.  I’ve been trying of late to move away from a policy of “keep it just in case”.  As a policy, that leads to stacks of belongings festering in corners; reducing the space available for you and for the things that you genuinely do want and use.

Freecycle lets me have the attitude that if I need something at an unspecified later date, I’ll be able to get hold of it again at that point.  If I send out into the wild the stack of paint trays and rollers that have been in the bottom of a cupboard for 5 years, then should I ever need them again, I’ll be able to find another set.

Of course, that particular set of paint trays may never be in circulation again.  But the more stuff there is circulating in the free and second-hand un-market, the more likely it is that the stuff you need will be there when you need it. 

I’ve started to see “keeping things just in case” as a form of wastage.  It means that a useful thing isn’t in use, so when someone else needs it, they have to buy another one.  As opposed to using the one sitting unused in my cupboard.   In a similar vein, I share a bike trailer and various power tools with other people: they’re expensive things that we don’t all need at once so why own multiple versions?  I can treat Freecycle and free shops as something a bit like a large and less trackable version of a lending library.  End result: less stuff in the world and in my house.