I'm not a great clutter clearer. Let's be honest, I'm pretty awful at it. It's not that I don't enjoy it when I can manage it - I love the feeling of clearing out, making a fresh start, making more space in my home, my life, my head. It's just that when it comes down to each individual item, I find it hard to let go. There's always that what if moment - what if I miss it, what if it turns out I really did need it etc etc. Then there's the emotional, sentimental side of things - and trust me I can get sentimentally attached to a wide range of objects. My brother could gleefully tell you numerous stories from my childhood: of my reluctance to say goodbye to our old cooker, to eat the chocolate parrot, to throw away the lamb's tail my grandad had found for me (mum put her foot down on that one, thankfully). I have hardened my heart a little bit since those days, but old habits die hard...
But one thing that does really help me overcome my natural hoarding instinct is thinking about what clutter I'm piling up for my children to inherit. I'm not planning to shuffle off this mortal coil any time soon, but when the moment comes I don't want to leave my boys to sort through my piles of "useful papers" or stash of strange sentimental items, their significance known only to me.
Having been through the experience of clearing out my parent's house, I know what an arduous task it can be. And yet we were lucky: my dad was a man who lived a fairly simple life, who didn't hoard possessions or insist on tangible representations of his life history. But in sorting through what he did have, I became acutely aware that every piece of paper I stow away in the back of the loft cupboard will have to come out again at some point to be considered and decided upon - either by me, or by those I leave behind.
If that wasn't enough, the mere fact that we have chosen to save something makes the next person's decision even harder - if mum saw fit to save this, they might think, then it must have great significance. How can we throw it away? And so a momentary decision not to send that ornament to the charity shop carries the danger of it being passed down through the generations, a testimony to hoarding and indecision.
As Lake Wobegon's Clarence Bunson says "Damn souveneirs are like mercury in the bloodstream, except they're hereditary too. You suffer from it and then give it to your kids."*
I'm pleased my dad didn't throw everything away - it is nice to have a few pieces around my house that speak of home, of my childhood. Maybe my boys will want to be able to do the same. But ultimately I know that what I want to leave my children is an understanding of what was really important in my life - and I hope that will be found in a head and heart full of happy memories, rather than the box of junk in their attic.
*in "A Glass of Wendy", from Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor 1987