on the final leg

Back inside again today.  Which shows piss poor planning as it is a lovely day and perfect for clearing out the outbuildings; which we opted to do in the cold and rain.

Having taken another carload of books to Amina we had a look at the heaving bookcases in the Gin Gan and started all over again.  While I sorted through hundreds of books the Boss started packing up the lots for auction.  It was a relief when Mel from the British Heart Foundation rang to arrange to come and pick up his second load.  For that means that by Tuesday evening this pile will have gone.

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And so will this one.

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My father is a bibliophile with a particular interest in wine and racing.  Consquently I have a huge collection of books going back to the early fifties, many first editions.  My job this weekend is to go through the book pile and decide which are worth going to auction and which are probably not.  This was one job I didn’t know how I would cope with.  But it was easier than I thought.  He gave them to me when he moved permanently to the States, he knows I will not read the full set of the Compleat Imbiber for example.  But somebody else will enjoy it as much as he did and it is worth quite a lot of money.  The real eye opener was a cookery book “Lady Maclean’s Cook Book”  Mine is a pristine first edition.  It has been put carefully to one side.

I think we are coming towards the end of the tunnel.  It has taken six months to get where we are now and there is still a lot more we can do.  But right now I am enjoying the space, the feeling of freedom and the great sense of relief to see so much clutter go out of our doors.

Will I ever go back to my old ways?  I think not.  I have noticed that as I move around the house I am instinctively picking things and putting them in the charity pile.  Thus went a pair of glass candlesticks, some towels, a selection of scarves and a pair of boots without even thinking.  Shopping holds little appeal unless it is something I really need or really want.  The former is now discussed and depending on severity of need bought now or put on the rolling shopping list.  The latter is put on my birthday list.  Come my birthday I am fairly sure that I won’t want half the things on there.

Finally, when you remove the clutter from your house and spend hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month packing it up and sending it away you get a pretty good sense of where you went wrong.  Things that you bought because you “thought they might be useful”, but never were.  Books you bought because they were beautiful but weren’t interesting enough for you to read or use.  Clothes that you bought because they were fantastic quality, a bargain, but you never really loved.  Knick Knacks collected from junk shops over the years.  Oh, and those infernal storage boxes that you kept having to buy to store all of the above 🙂

Now doesn’t that look good?

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Nice and simple.

what about you?

Decluttering books has been possibly the most controversial thing I have done.  I have written a full post about it here.  However, it is still something that rises hackles when I mention it and has got me wondering about why.

The answer is, I think, not a pleasant one.  Essentially book hoarders fall into four categories:

  • Academics or other specialists or professionals who need (or believe they need) to keep a large library of reference books.  As I am the child of one and married to one I feel I am relatively well qualified to speak!  My mother was a lawyer and made regular reference to the All England Law Reports which lined her study.  My husband is a medic and a translator.  He tends to read most academic papers online, although for his sideline is medical translation he has a wall full of dictionaries, some quite old and very specialist.  Some used regularly some rarely but essential when they define some obscure medico legal term last used during the First Republic.
  • Collectors.  My mother falls into this category again in that she collects cookery books, from early seventeenth century handwritten ones to Delia Smith.   There is a place for the collection of social history and books can do this very well, but it is all too easy to slip from discerning collector of items of historical and personal interest to unthinking or obsessive purchaser of items you may never even open let alone read.
  • Forgetful readers.  The person who enjoys reading and purchases a lot of books which are read for pleasure and/or personal enrichment.  But then puts them back on the shelf and never reads them again. It’s not wanton hoarding but just not quite getting around to doing something about the books.
  • Snobs.  The person who may or may not have read the books on their shelves but who feels that having vast quantities of books, gives them a certain cachet.

 

I believe that most of the people who sniffed with horror at the news I was having a massive book cull fell into the latter category.  When questioned about why they kept their books they expressed shock that I could even ask the question.  One just did not dispatch books (other than perhaps “airplane reading”).  Yet almost none of them could put their hand on their hearts and say that they regularly read or even irregularly reread those books.

Some books are kept for emotional reasons, I have plenty of those.  Some books are kept because they have an intrinsic value or are family heirlooms.  But the majority of books on most people’s shelves are books that have been read once and will probably never be read again .  They may be quite learned, they may be interesting biographies, they may be well considered modern novels or ancient classics.  They all look “good” and they are all gathering dust and could be passed on to somebody who will read them.

I know what I would rather do with those kind of books.  What about you?

simple

At the beginning of this journey I was like most new converts an evangelist and an extremist.  There are some who would say I still am (most notably the teenagers who are, I suspect, stockpiling plastic as I type).  How ever I have clearly mellowed for yesterday I did something that I would never have done back in June.

I bought a magazine.  To be fair I did um and ah for a while, I did go off and do some other shopping before I finally handed over cash for a disposable item.  I finally justified it by reminding myself that all our magazines go to the local dentist or doctor.  Their waiting room reading matter is prehistoric or ghastly rags written by a spirocheate on a bad day and attempting to be a poor copy of a 1960s edition of Readers’ Digest.

So I bought this.

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A bit of a contradiction in terms no?  A magazine about Simple Things.  But I have read the entire magazine.  There was no article in which I wasn’t interested.  I have book marked some recipes and some events, I even saw a photograph of the first flat I ever owned (94 Landor Road, London SW9 just in case you are interested 🙂 ) in a wonderful article about The Edible Bus Stop,  it is amazing (the story not my flat) go and read it and maybe even plant one yourself.   As a final added bonus it feels good, the cover is just a little heavier than most magazines, the photographs and the LO just a little less in your face.  The only thing that grated was the standard bit at the beginning of every lifestyle magazine, two double page spreads on “beautiful things for your home”.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if  instead there was a double page spread of “beautiful things you probably already  have in your home”.

So in that vein, here are some of the simple things around my house that make me happy, make me smile and make me glad to be who I am.

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The first cup of tea of the day.  I drink a lot of tea, I like it strong and black.  I am not a very nice person until I have had at least one cup.  The teenagers go so fed up of me asking for cups of tea when I was working upstairs that they bought me my own kettle and tea caddy for the bedroom.

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Fresh roses from my garden.  Their perfume is heady and goes beautifully with my first cup of tea.  One of my greatest thrills is to be able to fill the house with flowers and foliage from the garden.  You just have to be inventive, it doesn’t have to look like a bouquet.  In winter I bring in armfuls of redberried holly, winter jasmine, bare branches, anything that catches my eye.

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Clementime curd.  I made this yesterday after repeated requests from the Dancer.  The recipe comes from the amazing Karen at Widehaugh House. It is sublime and is a family favourite but never lasts long.  It is best eaten with a teaspoon out of the jar 🙂  The result of any curd is a bucketload of egg whites.  We are a bit bored with meringue and I am the only person who likes Angel Food Cake so I made  Nami Nami’s Egg White Cake instead.  Next time I will reduce the sugar content, but it was good to use up the ingredients in something I knew would be eaten.

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My favourite bookcase, or rather the bookcase with my favourite books.  Foraging, gardening, the Desert Fathers, meditation, living off the grid.

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Freshly made bed.  I cannot understand, particularly in these days of duvets (though I can still make a pretty mean hospital corner thanks to 11 years at boarding school) why so many people don’t make the bed.  I can’t bear getting into an unmade bed and will make it before I get in if I have to!

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Open windows.  I can’t wait for the icy winds to pass so that I can throw open the windows and the doors.  Sadly I am alone in this.  The Boss doesn’t really notice and the teenagers must have some kind of cold blooded reptilian DNA as they close windows and doors as fast as I can open them.  I am winning 🙂

 
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The Floor of Singer 2’s bedroom.  You will notice that there is nothing on it.  Singer 2 is the one child who has my tidy gene.  It makes me as happy to see her room as it terrifies me to see those of Singer 1 and the Dancer.

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Finally my Inuit bear.  My father spent many years in Toronto and Montreal and collected a lot of Inuit Art, both carvings and prints.  I have much of that collection, but this bear is  my favourite.  She has been with me since I was at university, travelling from London to Yorkshire, back to London to Scotland and finally to Durham.  I don’t know if she is the first thing I would grab in a fire, but she is pretty close to the top of the list.

 

 

 

read or dust?

The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

 

A couple of people asked how I decided which books to keep and which to give away.  Faced with a wall (or several walls…) of books that you have carefully cultivated over decades is daunting.  You have invested a lot of money and emotion in them.  They have been old friends.  You have carted them from house to house, packed them up in boxes, unpacked them again.  Arranged them by size/colour/subject/Dewey Decimal Classification (well maybe that’s just me).  You may even have read them, maybe even twice.  All of them?  No.  Recently? No.

I rest my case.

Go up to your bookshelf/bookshelves/book piles/library (delete as necessary) Go to a random shelf and without pausing pick out ten books you have either just acquired and haven’t had time to read yet but know you will within the next two months or have already read but are so fantastic that you know you will have to read again within the next six months.  No cheating, no going to the pile of books that just arrived from Amazon, no wandering around cherry picking.  One shelf at random.

How many did you find?

I rest my case again.

The biography of the Duchess of Devonshire may well have been fascinating but are you a historian?  Are you going to go back and check facts?  Are you a Mitford aficionado and will reread it over and over?  Or are you just keeping it because it looks good on the shelf?

My first degree was in philosophy.  I had an admirable collection of philosophy books from original texts to commentaries and commentaries on commentaries.  Today I am a stay at home mum.  I do not have an illustrious career or a glamorous high-powered job.  I like that.  I love doing what I do and if you flick through my gratitude journal you would see I offer up my gratitude for that on a regular basis.  However, there have been times when I have been made to feel small and insignificant because I don’t go out to work.  At those times it is nice to flick through those philosophy books and remind myself I once read them all and even understood them.

Codswallop.  I don’t need a pile of dusty books to boost my self-esteem and furthermore I am never going to read them again.  Somebody else with a pile of student debt would probably be grateful for them.

Some books will have been presents or belonged to relatives.  You can’t get rid of them because you would feel guilty.  How about feeling guilty that you are hoarding all those precious books which you are never going to read again.  Think of the Tate, The National Portrait Gallery, The British Museum.  Imagine your indignation if they were closed overnight and only a very select handful of people were ever allowed to visit them and see the artwork and artifacts they hold.  But even worse, those people never bothered to go.  That’s you and your never to be read again books.

By all means keep some for sentimental value.  I certainly did.  Some of the hardest books to give away were books from my childhood.  Though oddly enough as I child and a voracious reader I regularly did deals with the chap who sold secondhand books from a dingy shop on the corner of  Hillgate Place and Uxbridge Street.  I took him 100 or so paperbacks in part exchange for another selection, which in turn would be returned to him for another and so on.  The shop has long gone and last I saw it was a trendy deli.  A shame, Notting Hill Gate has plenty of trendy delis, it needs good second-hand bookshops where children can learn to explore and learn the art of part exchange.

I’ve preached to you long enough.  But please, look at those bookshelves again, take off the rose-coloured spectacles and really look at them.  Somebody else could love them, could really use them.  Somebody else might read them rather than just dust them.

 

 

good homes

There should be photographs for this post.  Photographs of my car stuffed to the gunnels with books.  Photographs of the shelves of books at Borderline waiting to be taken to new homes.  Photos of the boxes and boxes of books Amina and I packed up out of my car.  But I am afraid there are none.  Because I forgot.  Sorry.

I can show you a photo of what is left.

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Despite filling the back of my Grand Scenic with books there are still more to go.  Which is perfectly fine as that means I get to go back to Borderline and maybe this time I will have a shortbread.  Better still I can take some with me.

This morning I had a meeting in Bensham with the lovely Meg Gilley to talk about spiritual direction, prayer, retreats and what do I think God looks like.  It seemed the perfect opportunity to pop down the road with part one of my donation to Borderline.  I am so glad I did.  As we packed up the books from the back of my car into box after box, I occasionally came across one with which I wasn’t sure I wanted to part.  But after talking to Amina and having the grand tour I had no regrets.  My books would be going to good homes and would be read and loved, not left to gather dust.  The memories are in my heart they don’t need to be on a shelf.

Borderline is essentially a free bookshop.  They collect books that are about to be thrown out by publishers, book shops, charity shops and ordinary mortals. The books are sorted and stamped with their name and slogan and then redistributed – free of charge – amongst organisations that help refugees and asylum applicants, homeless people, women and children in shelters and others who have no funds for books.

Personally I can’t think of a better home for my books.

finding out the hard way

I haven’t bought a newspaper and I have looked at the possibility of subscribing on my kindle.  I can’t see a problem with that apart from one thing.  The Crossword.  This is a major feature of my newspaper reading habit.  I love crosswords.  I don’t want a book of them I don’t want to do them online.  I like to do what I can and then the next day look at the answers and try to work out how the heck they got from “Fighting observed in the capital”  to Warsaw.  That was an easy one.  How about.  “Cat heard in seaside playground”.  Answer Lynx.  Lynx (cat) sounds like (heard) links (seaside golf course).

Apart from the crossword issue the online sub is quite good for me because I am an anal newspaper reader.  One page out of line and I have to put the whole thing on the floor and realign and straighten and decrease all the pages.  When the Boss reads the paper he leaves it like this.

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It gives me palpitations and has been the cause of many a marital discord.

Magazines are a bit harder.  The Boss bought me a subscription for Country Living, I get a copy of The Garden with my RHS membership and I often buy copies of Mslexia and  Pretty Nostalgic, not to mention various other less artful or intellectual publications 🙂  I don’t have an iPad (as a writer I really need a proper keyboard and decent sized screen) and I can’t read them on my phone and I don’t want to read them , even if I can, in black and white on my kindle.  So my options are (a) buy the magazine and recycle to the Doctors’ surgery (I can’t compost glossy paper); (b) read it at the library if they have it; (c) buy an iPad or (d) don’t read magazines.

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At the moment none of them particularly appeal.  I would quite like an iPad but I don’t need one and to spend money I don’t have on something just so I can read magazines seems quite ridiculous and certainly not ecologically sound.

Books are far easier.  I have a kindle and I am quite happy reading on it.  Some books do not, in my experience, work well on kindles.  Cookery books for one.  I am an adventurous and happy cook.  I have an extensive (I really do mean quite extensive, but compared to my mother’s paltry) collection of books and they do all get used.  I plan menus each week in advance and pull out 2-4 books for each week’s menus.  Many of my books are out of print (the lovely Robert Carrier Taste of Morocco for example)

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and wouldn’t be available on kindle.  There is no point replacing what I already have with digital copies.  I have already polluted the earth and used up trees buying the books, it would be a double waste to ditch them and buy online copies.  So books I already have and want to keep (ie not the 400 going to Borderline) stay.

What of future purchases?  Novels etc. online definitely, or charity shops, or swaps or library.  No purchases of new novels.  But then what about gifts?  What about the book you read over and over and over and has your notes in the margins.  This isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

Thus far my posts seem to be endless questions.  Going low, or even zero waste is not any easy option.  There is more to it than recycling and composting and boy am I finding out the hard way.

the written word

papersSo I felt good after the pantry clear out.  It is more spacious, I can see what we have and there should be no more duplicate purchases.  But it’s not just that is it?  It’s not just what I buy but how I buy it.

Bea Johnson uses Whole Foods which is all well and good if you (a) have one or something similar near you and (b) if you are happy to shop in a supermarket.  Neither of those are the case for me.  It is true that one of the advantages of shopping at the butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer and direct from the producer is that there is going to be less packaging as well as less food miles and a greater knowledge of the provenance of the food itself.  But packaging there is, and sometimes quite a lot.

Then what about the dry goods and toiletries?  I can buy in bulk from Suma   but refilling of existing containers is impossible if you are buying mail order.  I believe one of the local farm shops allows refilling of bottles of washing liquid etc.  But I live in the countryside and if I have to drive some distance to four or five different locations to do my shopping my carbon footprint is growing from fuel use as fast as it is shrinking from waste reduction.

I feel I almost need to create a criteria triangle with the most important at the bottom.  In no particular order they are, I think:

  • local
  • ethical
  • low/zero packaging
  • low/zero additive
  • purchased as close to source as possible and not from supermarket

We have just finished putting the paper edition of The Durham Local Food Directory  together.  Ignoring for a moment the apparent irony of having a paper directory as well as an online one (there is a good reason and we did think long and hard but that is for another post).  It has not passed me by that it is somewhat ironic for one of the founder members of Durham Local Food to be in a quandry.  But the point is that it is about more than food it’s about clothes, books, furnishing, garden equipment, paint, loo roll, cutlery it’s about every single thing that comes over my threshold.

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It seemed at first rather overwhelming, then it became exciting.  A challege.  Just how much of a difference can I make.  The risk is that I will try to do it all at once.  That is my usual MO and tends to lead to failure and abdonment.  I need to take one area at a time.  I am tempted to start with food, but I am already fairly food aware.  I need to tackle something that I have overlooked in the past.  Something close to my heart, something that will make me sit up and rethink.  I will start with reading matter.

  • books
  • magazines
  • newspapers
  • flyers
  • business cards
  • print outs for Messy Church/Sunday School
  • advertising
  • office paperwork
  • cards and letters
  • photograph albums (I write in mine so I think that counts)
  • journals

We read quite a lot.  Much more than I realised.  I don’t want to stop reading but can I change the way I do it?  Task for this week.  The written word.

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How do I consume the written word? Can I do so in a less wasteful manner?