Obligatory New Year decluttering blogpost: 2016 edition

“I rarely look at the photos unless they are on the wall.”

“Since college, I’ve hauled from flat to flat an increasing number of boxes containing concert tickets, postcards, press passes and more. And I’m not entirely sure why.”

Does this sound like you? It definitely sounds like me. I keep old letters, old photographs, old birthday cards, essays from university and even one or two from school. And now, of course, there’s the digital memorabilia too.

I’ve just quoted a woman who’s taken a squillion photos of her young daughter but rarely bothers to look through them, except the ones she’s had printed and put on the wall. She’s doing better than me, then, because I have squillions of photos and but I don’t think I’ve ever framed a single one. I’ve been given photo frames as gifts many times; photo frames were the scented candle equivalent of the 1980s and 1990s, gifts you gave to people when you didn’t know what else to get them. But I don’t use them. Then I feel guilty about not using them and they go in a box.

Sometimes people even give me photographs ready-framed, but I don’t put them on display in my home because I don’t really want to look at them. I would like to have some photos of loved ones around the house, and maybe a photo or two of myself to remind me of moments when I was really happy (and looking great, obviously). But the framed photos I’ve been given as gifts are all of myself, sometimes with my partner or the photo-giver themselves, taken at times which would never have occured to me as a photo-worthy moment.

When I first moved in with my partner, I asked my parents to give me a group photo of the extended family as a housewarming gift. Instead, they gave me a picture they’d insisted on taking of my partner and me standing outside our new house. As she handed it over, my mum looked at it and said: “Why do you always do that silly thing with your mouth?” Needless to say, it joined all the other photos in the Bottomless Box of Stuff That I Don’t Want But Can’t Throw Out and I never got the photo of the family that I actually wanted.

What’s odd is that I’ve willingly posed for so many photographs because the occasion is happy and memorable, or I’m with people I won’t see for a while, or because I feel great about how I look that day, or because it goes with the territory – e.g. I’m giving a talk at an event where pictures of the speakers are A Thing. And those photos disappear into the ether – I never see them. And I’ve asked many times for copies of photos I like – cute photos of people’s new babies, funny group photos, etc, etc – and never got them. But the times where I’m bored or tired or tense or sad and someone says my name so I turn my head and then realise they’re taking a photo and think something between “Oh, fuck” and “Oh…whatever” – those seem to be the magic moments captured for the framing-and-gift treatment.

I’ve tried. I’ve fucking tried. For my partner’s birthday last year I decided that I would for once be the person who does the printing and framing. I bought a three-picture frame and got three pictures printed for it that I actually loved. For various reasons that I mostly understood, my partner wasn’t happy with the gift. The frame sat around unused for months and then (presumably) went into my partner’s Bottomless Box Of Unwanted But Unjettisonable Stuff, while the photos I printed went into mine. At least now I’ve proved that the photo-as-gift concept doesn’t work for me when I’m the giver any more than when I’m the recipient.

So that woman who says she doesn’t look at the photos of her daughter because it’s more fun spending time with her actual daughter? Honey, you have your priorities much straighter than mine. At least if you did look through your photos you would enjoy it.  I don’t look at my photos because just opening the boxes I keep them in makes me feel somewhere between mildly annoyed and physically sick. Ditto the boxes I keep my memorabilia in – and yes, I’ve moved house with this crap many times.

I’m trying very, very hard to internalise the idea that I’m “allowed” to not keep things I don’t want in my living space. I’ve found Marie Kondo’s way of thinking quite shocking – the idea that your home should contain only things that spark joy. If someone goes to the trouble of buying something specially for me, or getting a photo printed and framed for me, shouldn’t I keep it, even though I don’t want it or even like it? If someone is trying really hard to declutter and they give me a bottle of non-alcoholic liqueur and a cotton tote bag branded with the logo of a festival I didn’t go to, shouldn’t I help them declutter by taking it off them and using it? Don’t I need to keep evidence of the kind of person I used to be 10 or 20 years ago in case the High Court of Personhood challenges my claim that I was once skinny, once fluent in French, once pink-haired, once queer? I guess the answers to the last three questions are no, no and no, but dammit, it’s hard.

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2 Comments on “Obligatory New Year decluttering blogpost: 2016 edition”

  1. Janet Says:

    Don’t I need to keep evidence of the kind of person I used to be 10 or 20 years ago in case the High Court of Personhood challenges my claim that I was once skinny, once fluent in French, once pink-haired, once queer?

    Oh god, yes, this. So very this.

    Though I can’t decide whether it’s harder to get rid of the selves I used to be, or the selves that I am slowly, reluctantly having to admit I’ll never be. And increasingly it’s hard to tell which are which.

    • gryphon Says:

      Though I can’t decide whether it’s harder to get rid of the selves I used to be, or the selves that I am slowly, reluctantly having to admit I’ll never be. And increasingly it’s hard to tell which are which.

      I love (actually kind of hate) this extra insight. Thank you.


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