Painful Goodbyes

It’s a bit of an open secret by now that my husband and myself are thinking of emigrating at some point in the semi-near future (apologies to any friends that I haven’t got round to telling yet, that may come as a bit of a shock!). While we wait for our big break that will enable us to move somewhere exotic and unknown, various plans and preparations are being made, including clearing out some unwanted clutter from our flat.

Currently, we count ourselves amongst the lucky few who can afford to live in London. This is mostly due to the fact that we snagged a keyworker flat 8 or so years ago (one of the very few perks of being a teacher) and the rules have since relaxed so we can stay in it for a reduced rate even though I gave up the pleasures of 60 hour weeks and being tortured by OFSTED a few years ago. With prices as they are in London we do realise we are one of the lucky ones, even though we don’t exactly relish living a vuvuzela’s blast away from the Notting Hill carnival in a tiny-one bedroom flat roughly the size of my childhood home’s living room.

Somehow, despite the cramped conditions, we seem to amassed a huge amount of Stuff over the years. Everyone has Stuff, but exactly what Stuff you have varies from household to household. For us it’s a veritable spaghetti tangle of cables and wires to gadgets we no longer own, chintzy ornaments from my car-boot obsessed mother-in-law, and plastic bags full of pens of varying ink levels. And of course, more than my fair share of clothes and books.

Despite what my husband would tell you, I actually have no problem throwing away any excess clothes, I just think we have differing ideas of what ‘excess’ means. I tell you, I need my 6 identical strappy tops in different colours, and that dress with the flattering cut in 3 different patterns. But I did my share, and I have donated a large amount to charity in the last few months, meaning not quite so many clothes spill out when the cat tries to jump in the wardrobe now.

But books are a whole other story (no pun intended). While I love my clothes for practical reasons, like how kick ass that skirt looks with the right boots, the tie I have to my books is far more emotional. As I reluntantly pulled books from the shelves recently, I found myself getting strangely teary. Not to sound too melodramatic, but each of my books seem to hold a little bit of me in the pages.

Sophia Carleton bookshelves

Just some of my books in our flat, before the cull

Good or bad; battered or as-new, loved, hated or indifferent, each book holds memories, thoughts and feelings from my life. It doesn’t help that I have a fantastic contextual memory, so when I pick up a book I remember everything that was happening in my life when I first read it. Lolita: I finished it one Christmas eve while my husband was asleep in front of one of the TV. Les Mis: I read it with bleary eyes during my early morning bus commutes towards the end of my teaching career. Twilight: A friend from teacher training recommended it, and I read it in snatches between my nervous breakdowns on my final teaching practice. Emma: Read it 5 times as part of my Literature A Level, during all the uni apprehension, boy trouble, and general up-heaval that make up your late teen years.

It didn’t help that as I was removing books, bits of paper that had obviously been used as bookmarks, or tucked in the pages for safe keeping, kept falling out, providing even more memories. Honestly, the ubiqutous Billy bookcase is an absolute treasure trove of one’s life, Ikea really should start charging more for them.

Sophia Carleton bookmarks

Just some of the memories from within the pages. Even the healthcare leaflet has memories attached!

In the end I gave up trying to clear any more books. I had only got rid of perhaps a shelf’s worth full, and half the books I put in the bag destined for the charity shop have sneaked back on to the shelves again since. But even though I defeated the object of the clearout in the first place, it was still a worthwhile activity just for the trips down memory lane it inspired. So what if our flat resembles a shoebox full of books? And when we do end up jetting off to our next adventure, I’ll just have to be prepared to pay the extra shipping costs. After all, in strange and foreign land, what could be more comforting than being surrounded by all your memories?

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