The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Clear and clean up


Photo: Boxes of preserves and more beyond the camera's eye

Photo: Boxes of preserves and more beyond the camera's eye

I’m exhausted. Our messy cottage had turned into a series of piles with a warren of little passages that led to the bathroom, bedrooms and kitchen. So many things had been lost. The avalanches were a daily hazard. It was depressing and somewhat akin to a bijou cottage version of Miss Havisham’s house in Dicken’s Great Expectations.

Something had to be done. And when my friend Jean offered to help, I jumped at the chance and wondered whether the friendship would survive such a choppy and shark infested sea.

Jean’s mantra is
“Put things away. Discard anything that you do not need.”
Mine is normally
“Keep and leave everything out as you might need them tomorrow and at least you know vaguely where they are.”
But has changed to
“Put things away, Jean’s watching.”
And I keep on slipping even though I’m focussing on the heart of the matter. Our house is getting sorted and I’m clearing out the dross that’s holding us back. Jean has cleared the larder and the fridge so there is loads of empty space to fill. Broad smiles from me. Although I’ll fight to keep Babar – he’s the sort of silent friend that everyone needs when everything goes wrong. If that toy elephant could talk… his visit would have been fleeting.

Somehow if you are working with a friend on the sorting/grading/chucking (giving to charity shops) stakes some sensible sense of reason does eventually creep in – we’ve just completed day four. It’s embarrassing to admit that you do actually want to keep everything. Even the wildflowers that you pressed 50 years ago and now are just so thin and incidental that they barely exist. Jean is kind and tactful but she beams whenever I say chuck.

So I’m finally shredding or giving away lots and lots of stuff. Highlights include the 1968 Puffin diary, the last 40 years of bank statements, the cards from boarding school sent by people that I’ve long forgotten, the vast bag of socks with holes, the outfits that I imagined that I looked great in 20 years ago, strange things that I can’t exactly identify (vegetables or wildlife that have been salted away by the Min Pins?), books, free CDs, and so much more.

But I’m keeping Monopoly and Babar and lots of “essentials” just in case. If they can be ‘put away’ they are staying. From now on I will be a closet hoarder. Whey Hey!

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  1. I am terrified by mess, it literally upset my inner core the ODC in me hits mega dom when something has not been put away, preferably in its own box in its own drawer clearly marked on the outside of the drawer with a nice neat card printed off in a nice font on the computer and slippped into one of those nice brass library type card holder on the front of the drawer… My wardrobe room is even hung in colour code ( its looks quite pretty actually bit like a rainbow to cheer you up on sad days. I think valium and therapy would be needed before i could have helped you fiona LOL

  2. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    I think the world divides into two kinds of people: those who love to get rid of things, and those who love to keep them. The Chuckers and the Stashers. What’s odd is how difficult it is, when you’re one kind to get into the mindset of the other kind. I happen to be a Chucker, and it makes me very happy to get rid of just about anything. I don’t feel the attachment to things that makes me want to keep them, but I have several friends who do and I’ve learned just how strong a force this is.

    So I say Brava! Clearing out your house in the teeth of those feelings must be very difficult for a Stasher.

  3. shelley

    I chuckled when I saw the boxes of preserves! Hubby came home last week and was appalled at the chaos developing in the cellar…. I am now the proud owner of a new shelving system, with everything neatly labelled!!
    .. and it used to be me that was the tidy one!!

  4. We have been decluttering for the past eighteen months. It’s easier not to look, and instead just chuck anything that is either dust covered or hasn’t seen the light of day for years. We also freecycle – it’s amazing what others find useful for them. Good luck with the secure cashbox – they win, if you give up!

  5. Hip Hip Hooray! My “neat-freak-heart” is singing! I wish I had somebody’s house to clear out. It feels so good to have everything in your house under control. I do believe that it brings you peace of mind. Isn’t it wonderful to have just the items that you really love and cherish those instead of drowning in a sea of “I don’t know what that is. Put it away; we’ll figure it out later.”
    Keep on trucking – you’re on a good road!

  6. Toffeeapple

    At last, I can post a comment, but only on Firefox!

    Fiona, I’m so pleased that you have help to clear out the cottage. Your peace of mind will be restored as soon as it is completed. As you say, clutter is depressing, that is why I keep my place tidy, not obsessively so, but things are put away


  7. Lol! When I finally got around to having my first ever declutter, I consoled myself by selling things on eBay. This was about 8 years ago. It was however startling to realise that my toys from my childhood had be sold under the “vintage” section! I made ridiculous amounts of money selling my 1970s Sindy dolls and other dolls. Some household items, and other general bits and bobs also went on. I made between £50 and £100 a week for quite some time! It certainly made it easier to move 4 years ago… These days in a rented house, with 4 home schooled children, we still have “clutter” but there ain’t much room for it! Now I console myself by recycling rather than throwing things away – a sneaky way to keep all that clutter!

  8. ChickPea

    Do please let me know when Jean is in Scotland – we certainly need her here too !!!

    I think there’s several of us in the world who need a ‘Jean’ to motivate/guide/support us in the ‘clear-out’ activity. I thought we were doing quite well when we managed to reduce the whole house clutter to 2 bedrooms’ worth (or was it ‘confine’ rather than ‘reduce’ ?)……Either way, I appreciate you more each time I read your blog, and extend thanks that you are so willing to share your life insights and experience.

    All best wishes, x

    (ps. greetings to Jean x)

  9. Can you please send your friend Jean up to Scotland when she has finished your house.

  10. bobquail

    That sounds a lot like our house. Our front room is full of boxes of things and it isn’t possible to get to the far wall. I was rearranging some boxes this evening and found a mummified tomato from last year, from when I had a small tomato plant on the windowsill. Surprisingly (and rather thankfully) it had only dried out and not gone mouldy.

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