The other day I came to be the happy owner of a throwaway bookshelf. Not just any throwaway shelf but a Billy by IKEA; the kind that can be fitted with doors and baskets from the same source. Or with baskets bought cheaper elsewhere; or baskets that were being thrown away by someone else, just like this shelf was. Sitting on the kerb till someone slowed down, took a second look and decided to haul it home. In this case I didn’t even need the car to bring it home as it was placed almost lovingly right opposite my bedroom window. It spoke to me, making me look up and exclaim. The eldest son was called and he walked it across the road with all the grace of a teacher with a new student in a salsa class. From his arms to mine and a few more pushes till Billy was pushed up against a wall, in a space which had previously held a boring filing cabinet.
Suddenly, there was a voice in my head that said this was a sign from somewhere. Organise, clean, de-clutter; till all your craft stuff fits on those five shelves in a space that is about six and half feet by a little over a foot. By the way, I have mountains of stuff – all pretty and useful, some of it old but never out of date, and some of it fit only for passing on or the recycling bin. I have things I cannot bring myself to throw away, gifts from that friend who no longer recognises that I exist, old passport sized photos of the children that I cannot bring myself to rip up or shred, books missing the cover like the volume of ‘Rebecca’ that my mother had for as long as I can remember, so at least since 1974, and covers looking for their books like Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ which must be somewhere, I just know it.
I realise as I look at the piles I am constructing mentally that it is not just the craft stuff that needs to be sorted through. I organise our kitchen drawers and sideboard drawers with military precision; cutlery first drawer with Toby’s painkillers from October 2013(his pills, his collar and his death certificate are not going anywhere till I am in an aged care home myself), measuring cups, small knives, bottle openers and other things in the second drawer, serving spoons in the third drawer and so on. Yet, organising books, magazines and craft supplies seems to become this thing that I must do. As all things one must do, I am filled with dread at leaving these for the children to sort through some day in the future. I have only recently seen my parents freed from the albatross of a house sale which ate up their lives for the better part of two or three years. I have in the past seen how siblings question each other over sums as small as a few thousand rupees in a parent’s account. I know there will be bigger things than a mother’s stash of sparkly wool or a hundred rubber stamps to deal with.
So I do what I can with the ephemera of my life now. I cull severely and bring the number of stamps down to ninety nine. Well, the one that got tossed said Happy Valentine Day and there was no way I could handwrite an ‘apostrophe s’ in each time I made a card. I put all the beading supplies into a new container with a convenient handle. But it overflows, into two clean coffee jars. I am so glad I had those washed and ready in the cupboard under the sink; with about seven others. I then realise my mother has been hand-washing the empty plastic jars of peanut butter in the hope of them being of use some day. She finds the heavy glass jars that I prefer too heavy as she grows older. So I throw away three really massive glass jars and try to peel/scratch off the peanut butter labeling. I have to have blank containers if I am to store anything in them. I am funny that way.
An hour later, I have one shelf done. The professional organiser’s method of three bins labelled Keep, Donate and Toss is fine for them; they are not tossing their own stuff. But for me, the Keep pile remains as big as it was in my head while the Toss pile has one rubber stamp and a few odds and ends. I think of the clinically clean crafting spaces and desks on Pinterest and realise once again, the internet has much to answer for.
Whitman will be disposed of, his cover I mean while ‘Rebecca’ will be given a new one, perhaps with a photograph from the film; I did like Olivier so much in it. The felt, the foam sheets and Japanese washi paper will get turned into a few more cards and things before I feel the need for another round of re-organising. But will I be like others of my generation and cling on to things that simply will not fade or fall to pieces, till I hand them over to the children hoping they do something splendid with rusty rivets, paint clogged brushes and dried tubes of oil paint?
What was I thinking when I bought a packet of pale pink and blue baby soother and feeding bottle shaped brads? I think my daughter might be thinking that some years down the track if I don’t add that to the Toss pile right now.