I never quite forgave my mother for giving away my Water Babies book to someone collecting for a jumble sale. Which is why I don’t throw out so much as a to-do list belonging to one of my kids without due consultation. It’s not that I’m being especially solicitous, it’s just that I don’t want to face the sort of fury I unleashed on my mother:
“But you didn’t read it, dear, did you? It’s much too young for you now…”
“But it was mine! How dare you! I hate you! I want it back! It was mine! Mine!!” I did a good line in histrionics.
So when we were finally able to reclaim the flat that first my daughter and then my son had occupied as students with a succession of friends and flatmates, I duly enquired about all the stuff they’d left behind there. Did my son want any of the disorganised heap of design notes, or the box of topple blocks sitting on top of them? Did my daughter want all those clothes scrunched up in the top of the wardrobe? I couldn’t recall seeing her wear any of them. Or her economics notes? Which were ring-bound and neatly stacked in a 3-foot pile in the wardrobe. Presumably she’d thought they would be of some interest to posterity.
They said they’d “have a look” or “think about it”, but displayed no evidence of doing either, so eventually I said to Sandy, “Take what you want when you go down there at the weekend, because anything that’s still there when I go down next week is going out.”
My daughter was in Germany. She didn’t want the clothes, but decided she might need some of her notes again, she didn’t really know, she’d have a look when she came back in the summer. So I lugged them all back to the village and stacked them in the corner of her bedroom. That was three years ago; she hasn’t looked at them since.
Now I was free to get rid of several years’ worth of accumulated student tat that they and their flatmates had left behind: assorted mugs, some unchipped, in a variety of nasty colours, plastic flowers, candle sticks that looked as if they’ve been given away free with something, a large collection of burnt frying pans, assorted socks and long-forgotten items of underwear gathering dust under one bed or another.
To start with I went through it all carefully, in case something was worth saving, but in the end I decided it could all go. If no no-one else had saved the orange and purple plastic star-shaped tea-light holders from oblivion, why should I? So out it all went, bin-bags full of the stuff: the rejected clothes, broken handbags, old magazines, flyers for take-away pizzas, sushi and kebabs, assorted bits of make-up and half-full tubes of toothpaste, spent light bulbs, lumpy cushions, plastic bread baskets and fruit teas that were best before 2007.
Finally all the bin-bags were in the bin, a kind neighbour had disposed of two broken TVs and Sandy’s girlfriend had removed her exercise bike. Now there were empty drawers! And empty cupboards! It felt as if the flat had become my own territory at last rather than a neglected outpost of the kids’ bedrooms. Now I could imagine spending some time there; I could escape from the village, go out for a coffee without getting in the car, have a beer and some tapas at the bar round the corner. I could go to the cinema. I could bring some clothes down, some books, get some decent mugs…
I could start cluttering it up with my own stuff, in other words. Mine, all mine.