Addicted to notebooks
I am addicted to beautiful notebooks. Their empty pages hold such promise. I use them for lists, random thoughts, and in many vague attempts to be more organised. I’m also trying to journal more, as there are proven benefits of journaling for your wellbeing.
The only thing is, I have so many notebooks I forget what I’ve written where.
But I recently found out there are worse addictions… and I’m not talking about hard drugs.
Helping an elderly relative move house
I’ve just returned from Wales, where I went with G and the kids for the half-term break, to help an elderly relative move.
My aunty is sadly now bent double with osteoporosis which afflicted her very quickly and very suddenly.
How quickly things can change
One day she was striding down the muddy track from her remote Welsh mountain-top cottage to jump on her bicycle parked at the bottom of the track, cycle into the village and hop on to a bus to travel into town to some book reading, concert or art gallery. The next day – or so it seems – she was bent at an uncomfortable angle and struggling to navigate a shuffle between the kitchen and sitting room. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but her days of being wonderfully independent and free to jig between her isolated home and in and out of society have come to a halt.
So there we were, all ready to help her move into her new home, a more practical place (no garden, not the best view, but on flat ground and walking distance to ‘town’). She’d flown to the top of the Council accommodation list when the hospital had no place to discharge her to. She is lucky that her new flat has two bedrooms, but it still means a drastic downsizing.
Her beloved home which had become unmanageable and inaccessible was put up for sale.
Our visit was fun and frustrating in equal measures.
Don’t let your possessions possess you.My Nana used to say…
Emptying a home
My aunty’s house is chock-a-block full of stuff. Pretty cards are blu-tacked top to bottom on her walls, empty tea packets are lined up on top of kitchen cupboards (I’m not sure why), floral biscuit tins grown rusty from the damp contain half-eaten cling-film-wrapped biscuits, her Welsh dresser is packed full of crockery of every kind, the drawers, cupboards and shelves sighing under the weight.
Upstairs, rainbows of jumpers knitted in every colour and multiple yarns spill forth from closets, while hangers display clothes of every size and for any occasion. And in all three bedrooms is a tray made up with kettle, hankies, tea bag holder, teaspoons, tiny notebooks, pens, sewing kits, lamps, radios.
There is everything but everything you could possibly ever need.
Complicated relationship with possessions
When I visited the house to pick up a few ‘essential items’ (when asked, my aunty wanted ‘everything!’) the futility of possessions hit me.
There was so much… stuff. It suddenly – for me – lost all meaning. It had become a burden.
And really, there was nothing, nothing that you do, in fact, need.
At one point, while I was attempting to persuade my aunty that she didn’t need as many possessions as she thought she did, she – perhaps rashly – confided in me that feeling, which I relate to, that you get when you’re in a hotel room. You know the one, where you have only a bag of possessions and you feel relaxed and totally free? Everything is neat and tidy. All in order.
A view past possessions
There is room to see the rest of your life. A view past your possessions. Back to basics, an uncluttered life, and yet you have everything you need. But nobody is ever happy with that really – because our relationship with our possessions is complicated.
Love affair with books
The real issue in my aunty’s home, the real bugbear which was cramming the air out of the house, was the books. If I’m hooked on notebooks, and empty pages, my aunty is addicted to books. And by books, I also mean catalogues, magazines, brochures, guides, leaflets and everything else made from paper with the printed word inked upon the pages.
And she wants to keep everything.
G made a pretty good analogy when he compared her library to her own personal Google system. It really is ‘her life in books’. Every piece of her life can be cross-referenced in her huge home library.
We spent our few days there trying to work out with her what exactly she wanted to keep. In the end, in a desperate hope that I was calling her bluff, I suggested that she could place everything in storage.
She considered it, balked after the quote, and then agreed.
Easy to slip back into my old roles – Control freak and saviour
A week later I returned home with the most grotesque lurgy I’ve had for years.
Maybe it was the strain. Perhaps it was the disappointment of not being able to control everything (or anything) about the move. It could have been my body warning me that I can no longer jump into that role of saviour… I’ve done it before, too often, and crashed. And I thought I had finally realised that my role is not to ‘save’ anyone – except, of course, myself. It could even be that I’m sensitive to mould spores on old damp books – perhaps that triggered my flu.
I also felt a burden of… what was that feeling? Frustration I could understand, but where did the anger come from?
Declutter – own fewer possessions
My biggest take-away from the trip (not counting the flu) is to reduce the number of things I own. I had already finally started a long-overdue declutter. This was the catalyst needed to forge ahead.
For the sake of my children if nothing else (but for so much else too!).
Easier to be angry than sad
A few days later and I’m wondering why I’m still feeling so angry and frustrated inside.
And then it dawns on me. Anger and frustration can mask a deep sadness. I can’t control anything about my aunty’s choices about what to keep (everything) and what to throw away (nothing). Who am I to think it is my job to control those decisions anyway?
But the real thing that sucks: I can’t turn back the clock.
I can’t straighten out her spine so she stands tall once again. I can’t put her back on the bus returning from some cultural event or other to then cycle back to the bottom of the track, dismount and walk up that track and back to the home she loved for so long. It makes me sad. And it’s easier to be angry than to let my heart break.
And Wales is so far away…
Let the sadness come
So I take some deep breaths. And I let the sadness wash through. And then I realise something else.
I can’t turn back time in my own life either.
There’s no choice but to move forwards. Onwards…
…I think it’s time I considered the benefits of journaling a little more seriously.