Sunday, 13 May 2018

Editing A House by Sheena Wilkinson

This is going to be a short post. Partly because I’m super-busy with housey things, and also to illustrate a point. And the two things are related.

My late father liked to think of his style as minimalist. Which gave me some wry moments when I was clearing out his house after his death ten years ago. Perhaps he admired minimalism, but he certainly didn’t achieve it, I thought as I dragged down yet another set of fishing rods from the loft. (He had given up fishing about 1985, and had moved house with those rods more than once.)

on their way to a good home 

The experience of clearing Daddy’s house (1997 IKEA catalogue, anyone?) made me fairly ruthless about the clutter in my own. But still, every year or so I manage to get rid of more STUFF. Recently I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, partly by work-related things, but also by that said STUFF.  Things – especially books – had started to pile up, not literally because I don’t like mess, but in bookcases. I could always squeeze another one in somewhere. Did I need all those pony books? Even Jackie on Pony Island? Did I need three copies of Fly-By-Night? Why not just keep the first edition with the dustwrapper?  What about all those books by my friends? Wouldn’t they be hurt and offended if I gave them away? Why did I keep all that lit crit? My PhD was years ago. Did I just want to be the sort of person with clever books in her house?

STUFF (NB my own books are going nowhere!)
Gran’s china cabinet had been in my house since her death. I kept it because she loved it. I told myself it wasn’t really ugly; it was sort-of-Art-Deco. And even when one of the shelves broke and then I smashed a panel in the door with the end of the hoover, I kept it. Even though it took up too much space. Even though the linen I kept in it could be easily accommodated in the hot press. And then, clearing out the room to have it painted I saw how much nicer it was without it. And Gran did love the china cabinet, but she died in 2006, and I do not love it. It has gone.

Along with many other things – books, ornaments, flannelette sheets, ancient curtains, literary theory I will never ever read.  My rooms look brighter and cleaner. I did exactly what I encourage people to do in editing workshops: take out all the adverbs, the adjectives, the repetitions, and see what you’re left with. And then put back what you really need. My house feels edited. It’s not quite a haiku, and I would never want it to be – unlike Daddy I don’t even pretend to be a minimalist – but it’s more of a novella now than a three-volume novel. And I feel I can breathe and see more clearly.

Still not minimalist -- yes, I do need all those ceramic greyhounds

And if you find a book you gave me in a charity shop, be reassured that I enjoyed it and appreciated it, and that I passed it on after much agonising.

I did keep one extra copy of Fly-By-Night. I couldn’t read a first edition in the bath.


Joan Lennon said...

Good analogy, Sheena - and good advice!

Penny Dolan said...

Excellent post - and the tidying does make you feel better and clearer in the head, house or manuscript. I'm going through a slow but similar process myself, with both.

These family items are the very hardest ones to get to the stage of letting them go, for sure.

catdownunder said...

I've tried...and I keep trying...but....