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. Any help would be welcome, I’m a hoarder. Afraid that if i chuck it I will need it!
    I do re-cycle with the local authority,end up with bags full of plastic milk containers,envelopes,etc;as they only come fortnightly,more mess taking up space in the lean-to!
    Always, re-use towels, bed-linen in to rags. ‘Never know when they’ll come in handy’!
    Where to store the rags, yep I’ve made even more clutter than before. Anything ok I do donate to charity shops, only to find out months down the line, hunting through wardrobes (making more mess)hoping to find what I’ve donated.
    The loft, what a good idea,items unsure of go in to the loft,good idea, now the loft’s brimming to the rafters also,can’t find a thing! Getting the picture now, not good.
    If I’d left things where they where in my unorganised way, I knew where to lay my hand on things 1st time,all this extra clutter could’ve been avoided, my motto, should’ve left well alone at least I could find my stuff, knew where I kept where…now chaois reigns!
    If I didn’t cook,bake,bottle,compost,recycle,grow our own, how tidy all would be, however,how boring,unrewarding life would be.
    I like to think I’m as ‘green’ as possible,love my homegrown produce,homebaked food,a good healthy living apart from all the chaois I create when attempting to de-clutter, afterall one has to have one vice,or is that 2,3,4,5……? I’ve stopped counting, would love a tidy house, my love of food and the rest that goes with it I’m afraid, for now, until I try to find something!

  2. Bridget

    Would Jean like to come to NZ?! 😀

    We live in quite a small space at present and I have to constantly keep de-cluttering. It always feels good to have less clutter around the place.

  3. I meant alternative and room!!!!!!!!bloody keyboards 🙂

  4. Cathy and Amalee I agree but I have discovered a whole new use for green tomato chutney!!!!!!!! by blending two jars of 2yr old green with one yr old plum and blitzing it through a sieve I now have an amazing alernaive to brown sauce and more roo on the shelves 🙂

  5. Hi Fiona,

    Still clearing Aunt’s place. So understand quite a bit of what’s going on in your cottage.

    One of the other comments about chuckers and hoarders holds true here; brother is a chucker (which makes me a hoarder). Mind, I think he goes too far, in as much as he has just chucked a load of unused, still in original bags (sealed) new clothing. I’d give it away to the local age
    concern day centre, he couldn’t be bothered.

    He caused me embarassement when he put metal trays in a black plastic sack, which I assumed was just was rubbish, and threw into household waste at the tip; the workers there opened it up, found the metal, and gave me some grief that it should have gone in the metal…I at least *try* to recycle what is not being kept.

  6. bluenose

    Well, there seems to be a lot of organized, tidy people out there that follow your blog. I am afraid I am more like you Fiona, you never know when something will come in handy. I find that with the prices of things today, it is not always possible to go out and replace it, you often have to make do with what you have on hand.

  7. You might like I found this a few weeks ago. In one entry they suggested “if you had a house fire, would you re-buy the item”, if not get rid of it.

  8. I know it’s hard work to do this sorting, but I know of nothing else that does a better job of bringing one a sense of optimism for the future.

    FWIW, I just cleaned out my pantry and tossed out the contents of about 30 jars of preserves. It turns out that green tomato chutney is pretty good a couple of times, but it’s unrealistic to keep 10 jars of it waiting around for three years.

  9. amalee issa


    What the hell are you doing telling the world you’re Virgo AND that you’ve got a home full of junk? You’re letting the side down, matey.

    Mind you, I’ve spent this afternoon clearing out the garage. It’s addictive. As the afternoon wore on, “clearing out” became more reckless as huge amounts of crap were chucked onto a bonfire on the potato bed. I think I’m not so much a hoarder as a monumental pyromaniac. There really is nothing like setting fire to your junk and watching it all go up in smoke (and a few explosions, too).

    Amalee (half Virgo, half Viking…)

  10. You can always justify hanging onto Babar and Monopoly as being worth a lot someday- you’re just waiting for the market to catch up.

    I’m reading a book on small houses where you just can’t have a lot of stuff, because there’s nowhere to put it, and all of the people interviewed for this book avow that it’s very freeing.

    Of course I write this after having had a brain wave that if I build a bed with storage underneath it, I could put away the piles of detritus in my office and actually turn it into the guest room it’s supposed to be…

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